Potential Portland housing rules get legal review

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PORTLAND — While the City Council Housing Committee prepares for its July 13 meeting, Councilor Jill Duson on Tuesday said some actions to alleviate the city’s housing crunch may not be achievable because of overriding state laws.

“I’m really cautious because the council does not have the power and authority to change basic real estate law,” Duson, the committee chairwoman, said.

The five-member committee has compiled a list of actions to look into, working generally from the public input it has received since meetings began in January.

“It is kind of a homework list to staff,” Duson said of instructions for city Corporation Counsel Danielle West Chuhta to review possible rent controls, limit or end no-cause eviction for tenants without leases, require landlords to accept housing vouchers and require more notice to tenants about rent increases or non-renewal of leases.

“There is a strong consensus we want to address housing security,” Duson said. “It’s real and it is impacting people’s families,” she said.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau has said he wants more regulation on no-cause evictions with a 90-day notice with a buyout clause that would create more flexibility for tenants and owners.

Duson remains uncertain about what can be done about “adjusting the balance of power between landlords and tenants,” but said it is important to know the entire scope of what is possible.

“I want to know not just the limitations, but also what can we do,” she said.

As important to housing security to her is increasing the volume of housing stock in the city. Some action has already been taken, including “Housing First” projects to create homes for chronically homeless people, and creating tax increment finance zones for affordable housing projects.

Duson said councilors are also interested in looking into regulations for short-term rentals, including rooms, homes and apartments now available through websites like Airbnb.

As of Tuesday, Airbnb listings showed 206 active rentals, with 69 percent for separate dwellings, as opposed to private or shared rooms.

“It is possible to see how removing an estimated 2 percent of the housing stock from the peninsula could have a significant effect on the market,” city Housing Planner Tyler Norod said of short-term rentals in October 2015.

Duson said should there be regulations on short-term rentals that would differentiate between the rooms and entire units on the market.

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

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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.