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Business and Economy

Judge Rules That Portland Rent Control Ordinance Can Stand

Nora Flaherty
Maine Public/file

A superior court judge has ruled that a rent control ordinance approved by Portland voters last year can stand.

The ordinance passed in November restricts how often rent can be increased in the city - and by how much. Landlords must also present an "appropriate justification" for any increase. In January, the Southern Maine Landlord Association sued to block the ordinance, arguing that it's unlawful and violates due process.

But in a decision issued last week, Justice MaryGay Kennedy disagreed, finding that the ordinance is clear and fair.

Ben Gaines, an attorney representing the Foreside Tenants Union and the People First Portland ballot question committee, says the judge got it right, and he hopes the ordinance paves the way for other municipalities to enact rent control measures.

"This is a valid price control, and should be an effective ordinance that starts to deal with the real affordable housing crisis that we're facing here in Maine," Gaines says.

But SMLA President Brit Vitalius says the ruling in superior court leaves many landlords uncertain about how rent increases and appeals will work under a new rent board created through the ordinance. And he says other issues, including a recent citywide property revaluation, will only complicate things further.

"The revaluation and dramatic tax increase that housing providers are seeing in the city of Portland right now is just one example of how unclear this ordinance is about how to handle that," Vitalius says.

Vitalius says the association has not yet decided on whether to appeal the ruling.