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Portland Adopts “Housing Insecurity Policies”

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After months of policy proposals, amendments and hearings, late Monday night the Portland City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Housing Committee’s five-point plan for addressing housing insecurity in Portland. The new provisions will require some additional fine-tuning to flesh out the details and logistics, but the five main points that were implemented are:

  1. Notice period for rent increases was upped from 45 days to 75 days;
  2. Landlords and tenants will be required to sign a document acknowledging that they understand tenancies at will;
  3. A pamphlet will be created, and will be required to be given to tenants, that outlines landlord/tenant laws and rights;
  4. Parts of the Maine Human Rights Act were adopted into City code, specifically the provisions dealing with income source discrimination; and
  5. A seven-person landlord/tenant commission was created.

Since the proposals were approved only hours prior to writing this, the details of these points are understandably absent at this stage, but I expect the City Council to get to work on the finer points fairly quickly as these new provisions, as they stand, create a number of questions that I’m sure tenants and landlords are eager to have answered. For example:

  • Who or what office is drafting the document regarding tenancies at will?
  • Who or what office is drafting the pamphlet regarding landlord/tenant rights?
  • When are these documents going to be published / available, and when will they have to be provided? At the showing of the property? Before or at the time of lease signing? Assuming it’s a non-lease tenancy at will, upon move-in?
  • What’s this commission all about? What is it going to do, have the authority to do, and how are the members going to be selected?

As an attorney that represents both landlords and tenants, it’s that last piece that intrigues me, mostly because I believe that component, if given the proper authority and framework, can be the biggest difference-maker in Portland’s landlord-tenant landscape. I’ve also been advocating for some time now for Portland to adopt something akin to the Montgomery County Landlord/Tenant Commission and Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs. I represented clients before it when I lived in Maryland and found it to be an incredibly helpful mechanism for addressing landlord-tenant issues. I even used it myself to get my security deposit back from an old landlord, and was able to recoup my deposit, plus fees and interest, without having to spend a dime on court costs or attorney’s fees. The currently-created commission lacks the authority of the Montgomery County L/T Commission, but that may simply be a function of its nascency. After all, you don’t put a first-time driver behind the wheel of a tank, nor a rookie pilot in the cockpit of a B-52; it’s prudent to see how a vehicle handles before arming it.

The Council will undoubtedly face criticism for adopting this proposal, as it does for every move it makes, but in light of all of the other proposals, many of which were outright unconstitutional and/or illegal, I believe this is a measured first step in the right direction. The Council wasn’t going to cure all ills in one session, and this signals that they’re willing to address the landlord/tenant issues facing the City, one deliberate and careful step at a time. When faced with a potential minefield of proposals from all sides, that was the prudent approach, and one that kept the Council from stepping on a regulatory landmine by adopting illegal or unenforceable measures that would have tied the City up in expensive litigation for years.

I will continue to follow this issue closely and will provide updates as they are made available. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns about these new laws and how they affect you as a tenant or landlord. As someone in the unique position of representing landlords and tenants, I believe I am especially qualified for this commission and I will be submitting myself for a role on the commission. I am very optimistic that this commission can help Portland’s tenants and landlords; I look forward to being part of it and continuing to make a positive difference in Portland’s landlord/tenant landscape.