Portland city councilor ready to amend tenant eviction rules

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PORTLAND — City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau on Monday said he wants to strike a balance between the competing interests of tenants and landlords.

“I’m working on a proposal I call ‘leeway,'” Thibodeau said. “It is a hybrid affecting at-will tenants.”

Thibodeau, a member of the City Council Housing Committee, is proposing that landlords be required to give tenants without leases 90-day notices before they can be evicted. However, by returning a month’s rent, the landlord could buy a waiver of the proposed 90-day period.

“I think the overall goal from my perspective (is) what we need is landlords and tenants working together,” Thibodeau said.

His plan creates more flexibility for all parties, he said, and tenants who agree to a waiver buyout would also have money for expenses needed to find a new home.

Thibodeau said he is prepared to introduce the proposal at the Wednesday, June 22, meeting of the council’s Housing Committee. 

Councilor Jill Duson, the committee chairwoman, said Monday she wants each committee member to assess priorities and goals, based on community and city staff responses to 135 policy suggestions in 17 categories.

Those suggestions were presented at a May 25 committee meeting at the University of Southern Maine, and the responses were reviewed June 8 when the committee met.

City staff have also weighed in with their own suggested priorities, which include more notification for evictions, banning landlords from refusing to accept federally subsidized Section 8 housing vouchers, and using more tax increment financing to develop affordable housing.

It was also suggested by staff that requiring developers to set aside housing in inclusionary zones should become a permanent policy. Inclusionary zoning requires that developers make 10 percent of new housing affordable if they are building more than 10 units. The ordinance now has a six-year sunset clause.

On Monday, Duson’s thoughts echoed Thibodeau’s.

“For me personally, I think there are things we can get done and all agree on about better notice and balance at the time a tenancy is being terminated,” Duson said.

Moving forward, Duson compared the committee’s task to a traffic light, saying councilors needed to choose “green-light” ideas and proposals that could possibly be achieved this year, “yellow-light” policies that require more work, and “red-light” policies.

The red light would mean “we don’t think we can take this on,” Duson said, but the definition is more in the context of the rest of the year, as opposed to being permanently off the table.

“It doesn’t mean it disappears, because we have have done all these things to create a record,” she said.

Duson said she would also consider some kind of rent control, but had not yet determined in what context it could be applied.

“If what I am hearing from my colleagues (is that) they are inclined to say no to rent control,” she said, “what are they willing to say yes to?”

Thibodeau said his proposal is grounded in pragmatism and the need for mutual security for tenants and landlords.

“There is just no way there is going to be a 12-month moratorium on no-cause evictions; that is just not going to happen,” he said.

On June 6, councilors were presented with a list of six demands for action from the Portland Coalition for Housing Justice, including an end to no-cause evictions, an “immediate freeze or significant limitation on rent increases,” and an increase in the maximum amount for a rental voucher provided through General Assistance.

Duson welcomed those suggestions, too.

“I am always appreciative,” she said. “Portland is accused of having too much process; I think our process leads us to better decisions.”

Also on her wish list is more public involvement in developing housing for all income levels.

“I would really like us to create a process that would leverage some kind of public demonstration project for mixed-income housing,” she said.

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

Thibodeau

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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.
  • Chew H Bird

    A tenant at will is simply that. I have been a tenant at will when I was younger and evicted for no apparent reason. I do not understand the problem… A landlord should be able to evict a tenant at will at any time as that is the nature of the agreement. Beyond tenant at will status is something called a lease (or rental agreement) which determines additional considerations for tenant and landlord. What is is about being a tenant at will that is so difficult to understand?

  • WIltonguy45

    What people like Thibodeau are trying to do is eliminate private property rights in their quest to redistribute wealth. So to protect your self you should always have your tenants on a lease, a legal binding lease that protects you and them, no month to month a lease and do only one year at a time. Don’t advertise your rentals, use word of mouth so you don’t get pulled into the section 8 trap. The government will take your property and you will lose big time. You don’t need to advertise in this market so don’t.