PAC forms to fight Portland rent referendum

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PORTLAND — As the citizen initiative supporting rent stabilization heads toward the polls, local opposition has been formalized with the establishment of Say No to Rent Control.

The political action committee was formed Aug. 15, according to a press release, to oppose the referendum question.

“Simply put, this proposed rent control referendum is reckless and extreme,” local landlord Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, said in the press release.

In a later interview, Vitalius said the proposed referendum is bad public policy.

“Everywhere rent control has been instituted, it has been a disaster. It is not up for debate, it is not like the right versus left and there is an even split,” he said.

The PAC opposes every aspect of the proposed referendum question to cap annual rent increases to the combined increases in the local measure of the Consumer Price Index and city property taxes, which would affect buildings with six or more units.

The proposed ordinance would have a seven-year sunset clause and establish a local board with at least four tenants and one landlord to mediate disputes over rent increases.

“Repercussions of the proposed referendum include a sharp decrease in property values, reduced incentives for property improvements, and an inability to terminate leases of the most problematic tenants,” Vitalius said.

He also took aim at the proposed board.

“This ill-conceived ‘rent control board’ would be a legal and bureaucratic nightmare for Portland,” Vitalius said.

On Monday, Jack O’Brien of Fair Rent Portland said the opposition was no surprise, adding that Fair Rent Portland expects to be outspent by a ratio of 15-to-1 in the campaign.

O’Brien said support for the regulations will come because renters encompass about 60 percent of the city population and small business owners will see how stable housing will help them thrive, too.

Vitalius said SMLA will be part of the opposition to the referendum, but knows more housing is needed in Portland.

“Whether the market is hot or not, this is not how you make housing policy,” he said.

O’Brien said the proposed ordinance was revised from original drafts penned this spring to take a more inclusionary view that still promotes housing stability and allows landlords an opportunity to profit.

The ordinance places an absolute cap of 10 percent on rental increases as it makes some allowances for the costs of renovations and repairs to be passed on to tenants. Justifiable increases can also be “banked” for future years if not applied immediately.

Say No to Rent Control also opposes the requirement to use rents as of Nov. 1 as the basis for all future increases in covered units. If passed, the ordinance would require applicable rental data to be filed with the city.

“Property values will stagnate as rents will become essentially fixed. With rents controlled by the City, property owners would have little incentive to invest in or even maintain their properties,” Vitalius said.

O’Brien said the ordinance was revised to keep rents within applicable guidelines even when new tenants move in, but the sunset clause – effective Jan. 1, 2025 – is critical in considering how the new policies will work.

“What we really want to emphasize is rent regulation,” he said. “We would like the city to try something that can be observed.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.