South Portland group to propose rent controls

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A tenants’ rights group will propose rent control regulations at the City Council’s Jan. 25 workshop.

Chris Kessler, of A Street, has been trying to veer public attention toward the increasing lack of affordable housing in the city since last June, when he criticized the Mill Creek Master Plan for failing to include any affordable housing.

Kessler, who started the South Portland Tenants Association and the Committee for Affordable Housing earlier last fall, said he will propose that the council institute rent regulations as a way of protecting renters. 

The proposal will include annual limits on rent increases, linked to the Consumer Price Index; requiring landlords to provide just cause for evictions, and relocation compensation for tenants who lose their homes in “no-fault” evictions. 

The association will also propose that landlords have the right “to increase rent to compensate for capital improvement costs, other than those attributable to deferred maintenance.”

Kessler said the group is proposing formation of a Rent Board to oversee implementation of the new regulations, which would also include annual registration of all rental units in the city, and a registration fee that would be put toward the board’s administrative costs.

“Rent regulation is a necessary policy to prevent the displacement of community members who live here now while we seek long-term solutions to build more housing for people of all incomes and backgrounds,” Kessler said in a press release.

Approximately 40 percent of South Portland’s housing units are rentals, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau survey. According to Kessler, the average price for a two-bedroom rental in the city is $1,450 a month. 

In 2014, the mean income for households that rent in South Portland was about $35,900 per year, according to census data. In Kessler’s Knightville neighborhood and nearby Ferry Village, the annual median income for renters is about $42,000.

“Based on today’s statistics,” Kessler said Tuesday, “a renter household would need to earn at least $58,000 per year to keep up with rising rent prices.” 

Last summer, after renting for four years, Kessler, his wife and two daughters were forced out of their apartment on Cottage Road in Knightville after a disagreement with the landlord. The family was paying $825 a month in rent and, including utilities, up to $1,100 during winter.

Because it was affordable, the Kessler said they had planned to stay in the apartment until they saved enough money to buy a home.

When they discovered their lease wasn’t going to be renewed, the Kesslers scrambled, and realized they would likely have to leave South Portland to find an affordable apartment to rent. 

They were facing homelessness when they learned about an available apartment in the neighborhood on A Street, slightly more expensive, but manageable for the time being. 

Now Kessler allocated half of his income towards the rent.

“According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” he said, families who spend more than 30 percent of their income for housing “are considered cost-burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.”

Kessler noted renters are more than half of South Portland’s population, and said he is trying to bring attention to what he sees as an epidemic in greater Portland. 

If anything, rent controls could help renters feel more in control of their future, especially tenants with children who attend local schools, he said.

“At this our fate is not entirely in our hands,” Kessler said Tuesday morning. “We’re working toward home ownership, we don’t want to be renters – it’s not a desirable position to be in; it’s too unstable.”

While rent control is a step in the right direction, “ultimately (more) housing is going to solve the problem,” he added Thursday morning.  

Mayor Tom Blake said Thursday morning that the discussion at the Jan. 25 workshop will be very broad and that the association’s proposals “may not be what we’re looking for.”

“I think, at this level, we may not be ready for proposals,” Blake said. “We’re more interested in the problem, is there a problem, what are the statistics backing up that problem and what are our options going forward?”

 Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Chris Kessler, with his daughters, Cadence and Lyla, and wife, Jessie, in their South Portland apartment last October. Kessler plans to propose a series of rent control regulations to the City Council Jan. 25.


South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.

  • Matthew Barnes

    Forced out!?!
    It clearly states that his lease wasn’t renewed.

    How the h*ll is that “forced out”?

    Not too biased reporting, is this?

    (And look at how well rent control / rent stabilization has worked in SF, NYC, well, *EVERYWHERE* it’s been tried.)

    • pdxmole

      Yup. The evidence is over-whelmingly clear: Rent Control WORKS when it’s actually in effect. The only thing that makes Rent Control not work is when landlords, real estate capitalists, and their lobbyists meddle with the arrangement and fight for loop-holes and exceptions that let the market fundamentalists jack up the rents.

      • Matthew Barnes

        Ah, grasshopper. You have much to learn.

        Rent control *may* work for the first one in. If you don’t get in on the ground floor, you’re screwed.
        And even if you do get in when it’s implemented, say goodbye to any improvements or maintenance.

        Didn’t you learn that in Econ 101? Perhaps you ought to take off the liberally rose-colored glasses…

        • pdxmole

          Deferred maintenance of an essential sort is usually illegal, and you can with-hold rent for ignored/stalled repairs. Perhaps you should put down the Econ 101″ book and read up on real world stuff, like rights.

          • Matthew Barnes

            Bet you’re really fond of rainbows and unicorns also, eh?
            Why don’t you look up, uh, “real world stuff,” like how well rent control has worked in Berkeley, NYC, and Frisco?
            For instance, when was the last time ANY non-luxury rental housing was actually built in any of those three cities.

          • Craig Roche

            As an owner of rent regulated properties, and a former renter of them, I can tell you that rent control creates a self-reinforcing bureaucracy of lawyers, activists, government officials, etc., all of which is expensive.
            It does not create good or affordable housing; some housing becomes affordable due to neglect. It also creates some really perverse incentives — it isn’t worth it to me to repair or maintain bathrooms, but if I can get a tenant to sign up for a capital upgrade, I’ll only hire the most expensive contractor.

            Short term, rent controls are great for existing tenants, but if they every have to move (family changes, jobs, divorce, death), they are effectively locked out. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone — would be much better to campaign for more housing and relaxed zoning to make landlords compete with each other.

      • beachmom H

        This is a purely socialist idea that takes away any property owners’ rights. It also puts a huge hardship on the property owners because the City Council and School Board love to spend, spend, spend and when they do, our property taxes go up, up, up.
        If rents are not allowed to be raised, how is that fair to property owners?
        Or are you only concerned about yourself and to heck with those who have worked hard to save and buy property?
        If you aren’t happy with how much money you’re making, it is within your power to make more. Do more or do something different.
        Don’t go whining to the government to hold your hand to make life easy for you.
        When they do that, they make life more difficult for more than just you.

  • spcitizen

    If you cannot afford a rent in SP, then move. It is that simple. Everyone is not created equal. People who aren’t very bright won’t make as much money as smart people, therefore they will not enjoy the same things. Move to Buxton and work at McDonalds and you’ll be fine. Leave SP to the people who work hard and earn a decent salary.

    All hail Emperor Blake!

    spcitizen has spoken

  • MrMe

    Not sure how a lease being up is the landlords fault. If the renter wanted a long term lease he should of asked for one, or found a landlord that would grant a multi-year lease if his current one wouldn’t. A person renting someone else’s property should not have the right to a one sided forever lease.

  • beachmom H

    Socialist recipe for failure.

    The City Council and especially the School Board are almost uncontrolled in their enthusiasm to spend more and more money every year.

    That drives property taxes up every year.

    If you own property and the city takes it upon itself to interfere in the private business and ownership and private property ownership rights of this country to disallow rent going up, just where are the property owners going to get the money to pay the higher taxes?
    Where does anything say the local, state or federal government has the right to supersede our rights?

    I’ll bet if some of these people who are feeling sorry for themselves owned property, they would not be so quick to try to implement socialism.

    • EABeem

      Rent control may be a lousy idea, but it is not a socialist idea. It is a capitalist tool enacted nationwide in the US during WWII and in 1971 by Richard Nixon. In fact, it was the socialist Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck who famously said, “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing it.”

      • beachmom H

        Oh, it’s socialist. I don’t care what the letter after someone’s name is. and as for Lindebeck, I still don’t care what letter was after his name. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
        Control of private property rights is socialist.
        Real capitalism would not interfere with private property rights.

        • EABeem

          Until your next door neighbor decided to turn his property into an auto salvage yard or a sewage treatment plant.

          • beachmom H

            That is the good and the bad of private property ownership rights. Sometimes the neighbors will do something you don’t like, sometimes you will do something your neighbors don’t like.
            That, however has nothing to do with rent control.
            Renting out apartments is a business and a private business at that unless you take Section 8 or something similar.
            And what exactly would you propose to do about the harm that would come to property owners when their taxes go up because the City Council and School Board can’t stop spending more and more and more every year and thus cause property taxes to go up? Just suck it up?

  • Jim

    Where are the laws to protect landlords? Why would someone feel they are entitled to below market rents while they are “working towards” homeownership?

  • Jim

    And BTW, rent control does not “work”. Unless by work you mean it drives down available stock and makes rents more expensive for everyone else. Even progressive economists agree on this. It’s bad policy.