On June 13, Portland voters will be faced with two questions — one routine and another that could make a big change to the city’s newly enacted rent control program.
Referendum Question A is the lone citizen initiative on the ballot this Election Day. The proposal comes from the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, a group formerly known as the Southern Maine Landlord Association. The proposal, if passed, would amend a rent control ordinance enacted by voters that caps the amount that landlords are allowed to increase rent annually.
The current law states that landlords can raise rent at 100 percent of the consumer price index of the preceding 12 months — narrowing to 70 percent of the consumer price index in September 2023. Landlords are allowed to raise rent on new tenants by no more than five percent of the base rent of the previous tenant in voluntary vacancies. If Question A passes, the latter provision would be removed on units voluntarily vacated by tenants, allowing landlords to raise rent by whatever amount they want.
In 2020, the original rent control ordinance established a base rent for most rental units in Portland, and capped the amount landlords were allowed to increase rent annually.
A 2022 ordinance also prohibits application fees and limits annual increases a landlord can impose on a tenant. It also sets a $25,000 fee for converting an apartment into a condominium.
Proponents initially titled the initiative “An Act to Improve Rent Control,” the City Council opted to change the name to better reflect the intentions of the proposal. It is now called “An Act to Amend Rent Control and Tenant Protections.”
A “Yes” vote is a vote in favor of the RHA’s proposal, and a “No” vote would support keeping the status quo.
The Rental Housing Alliance came under fire after the city received more than a dozen accusations from signers of the petition who said they were misled by circulators or were denied the ability to read the proposed ordinance.
The only other item on the ballot this spring, Question B, is the annual school department budget approval.
The proposed school budget of nearly $143.9 million represents a roughly 6 percent increase on the schools’ side of the budget. While it initially called for a 7 percent increase, additional funding came in from the state Department of Education, which lowered that hike. The original budget proposal was around $141.3 million.
Correction: This article has been edited to clarify the distinction between the amount of rent increases that landlords are permitted to raise on new and existing tenants, and to reflect the date upon which allowable annual rent increases switch from 100 percent of the consumer price index to 70 percent.