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Portland councilors send rent control referendum to voters, with changes

The proposal would remove a 5% cap on rent increases when a tenant leaves voluntarily.

PORTLAND, Maine — Rent control was at the center of conversation in Portland Monday night as councilors considered whether to send a citizen-led referendum to voters in June. 

Councilors heard from dozens of people on both sides of the issue, including tenants and landlords.

The proposal put forward by the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine seeks to remove the five-percent cap on rent increases when an apartment turns over and incentives for landlords to increase rents for existing tenants.

This is how the ballot question was proposed by supporters:

"An Act to Improve Tenant Protections maintains all tenant protections established in the existing Rent Control and Tenant Protections ordinance. The Act removes incentives for landlords to increase rents for existing tenants and discourages no-cause evictions by allowing for the establishment of new Base Rents at the time of a new tenancy, but only in instances when the prior tenant moves out voluntarily. The Act also brings Portland’s rent stabilization ordinance into alignment with most local and national rent stabilization ordinances."

Many who spoke Monday night claimed the proposal was misleading and criticized the process by which advocates gathered signatures from voters. 

Resident and State Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, testified that he worried the ordinance would not truly benefit everyday people.

"I don't think it's easy to be a landlord," Lookner said. "I think it's much harder to be a tenant in Portland who is facing eviction, who doesn't know where they'll end up, If they can keep their jobs, if they can live in this community that we all value so much."

On the other side, a number of landlords spoke in favor of the referendum as it was written.

"We have treated our tenants fairly and favorably without government intervention. I belive I represent a typical portland landlord," Bobbi Cope, who  has been a landlord in the city for years, said. "I support the language in summary of the proposal that was summited via the referendum process because I believe it will continue to allow us to continue to provide this housing to our tenants without increasing rents every year."

After much debate, the city council voted to put the question on the ballot with changes. 

The title was changed to an "Act to Amend to Rent Control and Tenant Protection." Councilors also voted to strike the last line of the summary.

Two councilors proposed a competing measure to go before voters, but it did not get much initial support over concerns it was rushed.

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