For the second time this year, a coalition of landlords are attempting to undermine rent control in Portland.

In June of this year (previous coverage here), Portland voters voiced their strong support of rent control, with 67% voting to reject an attempt to replace the 5% vacancy turnover increase with the right to reset rent without restriction.

Not content to slink away with their deeply unpopular policies tucked between their legs, they are now attempting to decontrol all units owned by landlord entities who own 9 or fewer units, on top of the current exemption for landlords with up to 4 units, with no requirement that they live here.

Given the number of attempts to gut Portland’s rent control ordinance since its passage in 2020, as well as a successful attempt in 2022 to strengthen and clarify the law, the Pine & Roses Editorial Collective would like to share a simplified rundown of rent control as it stands today in Portland.

Which Rental Units are Covered?

All rental units in the city are covered with the exception of the following:

  • Owner-occupied dwellings made up of 4 or fewer units
  • Units already publicly controlled or subsidized by a governmental agency
  • Accessory dwelling units (secondary building on single-family-housing-zoned lots)
  • Units owned, operated, or managed by municipal housing authorities, accommodations in a hospital, convent, church, or extended care facility
  • Dorms owned and operated by colleges or universities

How much can my rent be raised?

The rent on a covered unit can be raised once every 12 months and only after 90 days notice. Rent increases are capped at 10% of the current rate. Given the rules stipulating the justifications for rent increases, as outlined below, tenants should not expect 10% increases every year.

Rent can be raised for a number of reasons, some automatically at the discretion of the landlord and others with the approval of the Rent Board.

Automatic rent increases may be added for the following reasons:

  • Allowable Increase Percentage: Landlords and property management companies can add 70% of the Greater Boston CPI-U to your current rent to cover additional costs stemming from inflation. The Housing Safety Office posts updated Allowable Increase Percentage figures every September. The current figure for 2024 increases is just under 2%.
  • New Tenancy: When a unit becomes vacant, its rent may be increased by 5%, provided the unit turnover was voluntary.
  • Banked Rent: When allowable increases (automatic or otherwise approved) for a single year exceed the annual 10% maximum, the excess is banked to be taken in a subsequent year. For instance, if the allowable increases in 2023 were 12% and the landlord took the 10% allowable in a single year, the next year they are allowed to add the 2% banked to whatever is allowed in 2024.

Rent increases are also allowed after Rent Board approval “to ensure a fair rate of return,” per the language of the ordinance. There are several mechanisms for this, including on the basis of capital improvements (such as installing new flooring, painting, installing a new roof, etc) amortized), the cost of which is generally amortized for the life of the improvement, or renovation, which may be amortized or may result in a new base rent at the Rent Board’s discretion.

Additional information can be found here, and questions can be directed to the Housing Safety office, either via email or by calling 207-756-8131.

Other Important Considerations

In addition to these rent increase stipulations, the ordinance defines notice periods for terminating a tenancy (90 days except in case of evict, at-will tenancy, or with remuneration for shorter notice), limits deposits to no more than 1 month’s rent, recognizes tenant union representation, requires landlords furnish a rental housing rights doc from city, and forbids application fees, income discrimination and waiving these rights, even by agreement of both parties.

These protections leave Portland tenants with some of the strongest rights to housing in the country, a bar which is unfortunately quite low. The data suggests rent control in Portland is working to stabilize rents, and economists have warned its repeal would drive rents up.

Rising rents have already displaced a great number of former Portland residents. We cannot afford to go back to pre-2020 policies. The Pine and Roses Editorial Collective is once again urging all Portlanders to vote No on A to preserve rent control. If you’re already registered, please vote on Tuesday, November 7th! You can find your polling location here. If you’re not yet registered to vote or have recently moved, Maine allows same-day registration at the polls.