- The Housing Committee Proposal
- My Vote to Support This Package
- "Little More Than Nothing"
- The Amendments and Why I Couldn't Support Any of Them
- A Quick Aside: A Few More Thoughts on Voucher Programs & Affordable Housing
- So... There You Have It
- Increases the notification period for rent increases—from 45 days to 75 days.
- For tenancies-at-will, requires both the landlord and the tenant to sign a document explaining the terms of a tenancy-at-will.
- Requires landlords to distribute a leaflet outlining rights, responsibilities, and privileges of tenants and landlords to their tenants.
- Establishes a Landlord-Tenant Committee to work with City staff to collect housing market data, report annually on the state of the housing market, recommend policy changes, and report to the Council's Housing Committee.
- Incorporates the Maine Human Rights prohibitions against income discrimination into City ordinance.
Increasing the notification period for rent increases will give tenants an additional month to plan if their rent will be increasing at the end of their lease period.
The provisions that require landlords to ensure their tenants know their rights and responsibilities, whether they are at-will-tenants or tenants with leases, will help to ensure that both landlords and tenants understand their duties and obligations as well as their rights in the tenant-landlord relationship.
Establishing a landlord-tenant committee to work with city staff will help the City to remain on top of landlord-tenant issues as they arise and will also give landlords and tenants a forum to improve communication between both groups.
And finally, although it is redundant since Maine law already prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of source of income, incorporating language from the Maine Human Rights act into our local ordinances will help to ensure that both tenants and landlords are aware this discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated.
I was initially opposed to including this redundant language in our ordinance, but I agreed to support this measure out of respect for Councilor Duson, who has extensive experience advocating for human rights and working to fight discrimination.
The Mayor's Housing Proposal, as presented to the Housing Committee in August of 2016, was largely redundant with existing state law, and many of the portions that weren't redundant conflicted with state law.
To vote for that proposal may have looked good on paper, but the redundant portions of the proposal would have accomplished nothing. Discrimination based on source of income is already illegal according to state law. It would not be made more illegal by writing it into a municipal ordinance. And the portions that conflicted with Maine law would only have set the City up for a series of court battles it would have lost.
As for the idea that the Housing Committee's proposal accomplished "little more than nothing," I disagree.
The package the committee forwarded and the Council passed accomplishes all of the following:
- it gives renters more time to plan for potential rent increases;
- it helps to educate both landlords and tenants of their rights and responsibilities in the often complex tenant-landlord relationship;
- it gives landlords a clear process to follow in terms of informing tenants about lead hazards, radon testing, energy efficiency, and the terms of at-will-tenancies;
- it establishes a committee that will help the city remain current with landlord-tenant issues, housing market data, and policy issues, and that will bring landlords and tenants together for meaningful dialogue about housing concerns;
- it emphasizes existing state law concerning housing discrimination by incorporating language from the Maine Human Rights act directly into Portland's local ordinance.
State of Maine statutes define tenancies at will as tenancies that can be cancelled by either party with 30-days notice. Requiring 90-days notice for the termination of a tenancy at will, would effectively eliminate a category of tenancy the state has defined in statute and deemed legal.
If the Council had passed the Mayor's proposed amendment, or Councilor Thibodeau's "Leeway Program," neither would have stood up in court. This is the legal opinion we received over and over again from the City's legal team.
I was also opposed to the "buyout" clause in Councilor Thibodeau's proposal, which would have allowed landlords who paid their tenants $500-$1,000 to abide by shorter noticing requirements.
I understand and appreciate that he was trying to come up with a compromise that would allow landlords to give 30-days notice and provide tenants with funds to help them with moving expenses. However, his proposal still did away with at-will-tenancies as defined by Maine law, which would not have stood up in court. Additionally, I didn't think that it was appropriate to have rules that would allow big landlords to buy their way out of a regulation while most small landlords would be unable to do so.
Councilor Thibodeau did some fantastic work putting his proposal together and I greatly appreciate what he was trying to do. I just didn't agree that his proposal was legal or fair.
- the first part prohibited housing discrimination based on source of income;
- the second part required all landlords in Portland to paricipate in voucher programs.
Regarding the first part, it was redundant with Maine state statutes which already prohibit discrimination against tenants based on their source of income. Additionally, it was redundant with the package the Housing Committee put forth.
As for the second part of this amendment, which would have required all landlords in Portland to participate in a voucher program which the Federal Government has stated is voluntary, I did not want to support something that had been found, in other court proceedings, to be illegal.
Again, the city would likely have been challenged in court immediately after passing such a requirement, and based on precedent the city would have lost. As I said at our Council meeting on this topic, I am much more in favor of trying to provide incentives and education to encourage more landlords to participate with voucher programs than in instituting a rule that would run counter to federal guidelines and wouldn't stand up in court.
I also worry that if landlords were required to participate in a voucher program against their will, they would raise their rents by just enough to ensure no one with a voucher could qualify. This would further decrease affordable rents in our community, which would have a negative impact overall.
Again, that's why I believe education and incentives will work better than mandates. Voucher programs provide guaranteed rent payments each month—they're a good deal. If we can inform more landlords about the positive aspects of participation and help them learn how to become participants, we will have more of an impact.
We also need to focus on creating more affordable housing and—a personal goal of mine—redefining what the city considers "affordable." Right now, our inclusionary zoning ordinance identifies affordable apartments as those that can be rented by people making 100-120% of the area median income (AMI). That threshold should be set lower: 80-100% of AMI makes more sense to me.
Okay. Back to the amendments
Discounted legal services, landlord-tenant mediation on a sliding scale or for free, and informational resources are all already available either through the city or from other entities.
Councilor Hinck realized this was the case and did not offer the amendment.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line. I'm always happy to explain why I do what I do. Thanks for reading.