PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Voters in Portland will go to the polls Tuesday to decide four questions on a municipal ballot. If passed Question 1 would implement rental control for the first time in Maine's largest city.
The proposal would limit annual rent increases to the rate of inflation and create a rent board to oversee increases and evictions.
Opponents say part of the ordinance is illegal because it would make it harder for landlords to evict problem tenants.
George Lawson owns this more than 100-year-old apartment building near Deering Oaks Park. Over the past several years he has invested part of the rent he collects to upgrade the building.
Lawson says he may not be able to afford the renovations if Question 1 on the Portland ballot is approved.
The referendum would limit rent increases to inflation for landlords with six or more units.
Lawson believes if rent control becomes a reality, units will be rented out below market price, enticing low-income renters to stay put.
"This proposal will decrease housing units over time," Lawson said.
Fair Rent Portland got the referendum on the ballot.
The group says 60 percent of Portland's population is made up of renters and claims the city ranks among the highest in the nation for rental increase rates.
Spokesperson Jack O'Brien wasn't available for an on-camera interview, but told NEWS CENTER by phone cities across the country that have implemented rent stabilization have kept their affordable housing.
"Thousands of units that used to be affordable five years ago are no longer affordable and this is exactly what we will see in other cities that are gentrified," O'Brien said.
Landlords say some of the provisions in the proposed referendum would make it nearly impossible for landlords to evict problem tenants — that timeline would go from seven to 60 days.
"It's not just about rents, it rewrites landlord eviction law and it creates a seven-member panel run by tenants," Vitalius said. "It's going to be a disaster."
Vitalius says the "rent board" would have sweeping responsibilities but little resources to regulate more than half of the city's 18,000 rental units, which have written leases.
At-will tenants would be exempt from the ordinance.
Opponents recently got a boost when Community Housing Maine, the largest provider of housing for the homeless, came out publicly against Question 1.
They say it could do more harm than good.
Housing officials believe the better solution is to build more affordable housing for low and middle-income families.