Portland landlords, like NYC’s, push for rent control rollback

Tenants in Portland, Maine tap satire to take down landlord ballot measure

Portland, Maine rent control rollback referendum

Portland, Maine (Getty)

In New York this month, elected officials introduced legislation that would let landlords hike rents on stabilized apartments and instantly drew the wrath of city socialists. 

Tenant advocates, who claimed the “poisonous bill” would kill affordability, drove a handful of sponsors to pull support. That attack sparked a stand-off with owners who claim the legislation is their best chance at funding repairs to keep units on the market.

Up the coast, a kindred fight is brewing between Maine tenants and landlords, except that the weapon of choice for Portland, Maine, socialists is satire. 

A ballot measure that will go to a vote next month in Portland would let owners bump rents to market rate once a tenant vacates. 

To dispel support for the proposal, the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has stocked the city with yard signs mocking the landlord-backed initiative.

A member of the chapter, known as Enough is Enough BQC, supplemented the signs with an Instagram post likening landlords’ push to the Ku Klux Klan’s influence on city government a century ago.

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The ballot measure would override a 5 percent cap on rent hikes in vacant units, a referendum that passed by a 5 percent margin in November. As in New York, Portland tenants argue the change would erode tenant protections they’ve characterized as some of the strongest on the East Coast, according to Patch.

And while New York landlords claim tenants misconstrued their proposed legislation as a gutting of rent-stabilization, Portland tenants accuse landlords of drastically misrepresenting or outright lying about the impact of the ballot measure and blocking residents from reading it, Portland Phoenix reported. 

Tenants also took issue with the bill’s original title: “An Act to Improve Tenant Protections.” City council members, deciding that name was misleading, eventually changed it to “An Act to Amend Rent Control and Tenant Protections,” WABI reported.

For their part, Portland owners claim that without the ordinance they won’t have the cash on hand to improve vacant units. 

“When you’ve got a building that the tenant’s been in for 10 years, it’s getting pretty tired,” owner Britt Vitalius told WABI. “If you can’t raise the rent are you going to fix it up? … No.”

That argument smacks of New York landlords’ stance: Absent a chance to raise rents, owners won’t be able to fund repairs and will keep increasingly more units off market. 

Jay Martin, who heads landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program, summarized owners’ take in a tweet this week: “You cannot pay for 2023 housing with 1983 rents.”

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