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Bill suggests creating statewide registry of rental units to track availability

Maine has a hard time determining how many rental units it has. A bill before the Legislature would create a database to help renters find housing. But landlords are resisting the program because they say it would create more costs for tenants.

For opponents, the biggest source of contention is a $50 registration fee. It would apply to property owners with more than 50 units. But landlord associations who spoke before the housing committee on Friday don't like any aspects of the bill. Dan Bernier of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association said his members view it as a step toward rent control.

"And whether that perception is real or justified, that perception means this legislation will have a chilling effect on investment in land and in housing in our state," he said.

The bill would ask landlords to provide their contact information, the location of the units and the number of units in each property. Housing advocates say such information is necessary as Maine continues to face a rental stock shortage. They also argued it would help landlords learn about beneficial public programs.

"If we had that information, it would not only be of great assistance to planning how to meet our housing needs, but would also have a multitude of other benefits," said Kate Blackford, a policy director for the progressive Maine People's Alliance. "So housing aggregators wouldn't need to wait for listings to pop up to find out which landlords they should build relationships with."

Some communities such as Lewiston and Orono already have rental registries. But Maine's housing authority suggested last year in a report that the creation of such a list should be left up to individual towns. A Department of Economic and Community Development representative says it would be difficult to keep the information updated.

Reporter Caitlin Andrews came to Maine Public in 2023 after nearly eight years in print journalism. She hails from New Hampshire originally.