Yarmouth council rejects renters' rights proposal

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council has rejected an ordinance drafted to address tenants’ rights.

Town Councilor April Humphrey brought the proposal to the council at an Oct. 5 workshop after receiving complaints about rent increases, inadequate repairs and lack of maintenance from tenants at four properties owned by Taymil Partners: Yarmouth Pointe, Yarmouth Green, Yarmouth Place, and Yarmouth Landing. 

She proposed an ordinance that would require landlords to give renters 75 days notice of a rent increase, rather than the state’s mandated 45-day notice. It would also call on the town Planning Department to develop a document detailing tenants’ rights and responsibilities and require that landlords give this document to all new tenants.

Humphrey also proposed forming a Rental Housing Advisory Committee made up of tenants, landlords and other residents to evaluate the rental housing market and make ordinance and policy recommendations to the council.

Humphrey said there was a point when she thought rent control was the only option – and she was willing to propose that – but eventually landed on alternative methods of regulation, based on an existing ordinance in Portland. 

Southern Maine Landlord Association President Brit Vitalius said the Portland City Council came to conclusions outlined in Humphrey’s proposal, but said Portland was advised that many of the things they would like to do were already regulated by the state and could not legally be controlled at the municipal level. 

“You’re wading into state law territory if you’re going to take up this question,” Vitalius warned. He added although the landlord association supported the three proposals in Portland and agreed they wouldn’t challenge it, he’s not sure it would stand up to a legal challenge with the state.

Maine law requires landlords to give 45 days notice if rent is going to increase. If renters do not renew their lease, they are given the option to pay a month-to-month fee until they decide to move out or opt out with Taymil. Humphrey said the month-to-month rate is at least $300 higher than the monthly rate tenants pay if they sign a one-year lease.

“This practice essentially forces the tenants to make a critical decision about their housing, where they will live with their families, within 15 days or risk penalties they may not be able to afford,” Humphrey said.

Taymil Executive Vice President Patrick Wolfgang told councilors Humphrey was conducting a “cruel and unwarranted” door-to-door campaign against Taymil. 

Wolfgang said Taymil gives tenants 75 days notice – rather than the state’s required 45 – but requires 60 days’ notice from tenants. 

He said the company’s rents align with competitors in Yarmouth and Portland. 

According to its website, apartment  rents range from about $995 to $1,500 per month, depending on location and size. 

“We value our relationship with the town,” Wolfgang said. “I ask you vote against (this proposal).”

Councilors Tim Shannon and David Craig showed support for an ordinance.

“We as a council have to listen to everyone in town and take up their issues,” Craig said. “This may be a non-issue to you, but it’s not to (tenants).” 

But Chairwoman Pat Thompson and Councilors Robert Waeldner and James MacLeod believed the town shouldn’t get involved with rental disputes, or take action based on allegations against a single company or organization.

“This is part of a motivated progressive movement that looks to (town) government to solve or right all perceived social injustices,” MacLeod said. “I do not support any further discussion of this issue now or ever at the local level.”

Thompson and Waeldner said they would support future discussion, but not the proposed ordinance. 

Members of the public who spoke were divided between those who supported an ordinance and those who felt it wasn’t the town’s business and would lead to a form of rent control.

Councilor David Craig stressed this was not a proposal to introduce rent control, but many in the audience did not seem convinced. Applause erupted when Brian Bicknell, of Sisquisic Trail, said, “If this is a good idea, tax control is a good idea.”

State Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, expressed support for an ordinance, saying she felt the issue should be resolved locally. She added that when she campaigned, she went inside Taymil units and found them “abysmal.”

Taymil tenant Kate Stephens said that when she felt she couldn’t afford rent increases, she was offered month-to-month payments of $800 more than she was paying. 

“For somebody who is considering not being able to afford the rental increase, going for that month-to-month … is kind of unheard of,” Stephens said.

Wolfgang said Taymil is “in the business to get leases signed, not offer month-to-month tenancy … but (they) offer (month-to-month fees) as a convenience.” 

Bonnie Thurber, of Northwood Road, said she was a Taymil tenant and was always treated fairly.

“I was never forced into re-signing (a lease) … I don’t feel like going against Taymil is something the town should do,” she added.

Although the proposal will not be moved to a vote on Oct. 19, rental concerns will be discussed by they council Operations Committee on Thursday, Oct. 12. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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