The City of Portland Director of Permitting and Inspections (PID) Jessica Hanscombe sent a Jan. 25 letter to City Manager Danielle West rebutting the claims of the Portland Press Herald that the city is not adequately enforcing its rent control ordinances.
Portland voters approved the city’s rent control ordinance via a referendum spearheaded by the Maine Democratic Socialist of America in November 2020, which established a base rent on most of the city’s rental units, and capped the amount by which landlords can increase rent annually.
Additions to the rent control ordinances were put in place via another citizen initiative in 2022, and a referendum effort to roll back certain aspects of rent control failed to pass this past November.
An article published Jan. 21 in the Press Herald made the claim that the City of Portland has not penalized a single landlord since the rent control ordinances took effect.
In a follow-up article, the Press Herald Editorial Board wrote that the city’s rent control system “isn’t playing out as intended” and called for the city to implement stronger enforcement of compliance with the ordinances.
In her Jan. 25 letter, PID Director Jessica Hanscombe wrote that the “misconception” that city staff are not enforcing the rent control ordinances is “not an accurate statement.”
Hanscombe wrote that since the rent control ordinance came into effect, PID staff have “worked hard with the additional workload to implement and enforce the new ordinance over the last few years with no additional staff.”
“We implemented the ordinance in 30 days and continue to enforce all requirements of the ordinance and complaints,” Hanscombe wrote.
Some of the measures implemented and enforced by city staff, according to Hanscombe, include landlords being required to provide her office annually with information on monthly rents and increases, working alongside the Portland Rent Board, and setting the Consumer Price Index (CPI) yearly.
“Staff has followed up on all complaints that have been submitted to this office,” Hanscombe wrote. If the property was in violation they were given an opportunity to come into compliance and were educated on the ordinance.”
If a landlord is the subject of a complaint and is determined to be in violation of the rent control ordinance, and they work to correct the violation, no fines are brought against that landlord, according to Hanscombe.
“The inspector notifies the landlord regarding the violation and what is needed to comply. Staff works with the landlord to ensure that the tenant is given the proper notice or the rental amount has been corrected or any other violation.
If the landlord complies and the tenant is made whole in regards to the complaint. The case will be closed. No fines are issued.”PID Director Jessica Hanscombe, Jan. 25 letter to Portland City Manager Danielle West
“At this time, we have not had any landlords that have failed to rectify any violations,” Hanscombe wrote.
However, Hanscombe added that late fee violations resulted in staff collecting $265,550 in fines during fiscal year 2023, and $36,450 in fines for FY24 as of Dec. 31.
Portland’s Permitting and Inspections Department was also granted three additional staff members for FY24 who will focus entirely on Rent Control.
The Portland City Council is slated to discuss Hanscombe’s letter during their Feb. 5 meeting.