Amid continued skyrocketing costs, lawmakers on a legislative committee Wednesday unanimously voted down a bill to stabilize rent prices and reform tenant termination laws.
As Beacon previously reported, LD 1574, sponsored by Rep. Laura Supica (D-Bangor), would prohibit landlords from increasing the rent on a housing unit more than once per year. Additionally, if the landlord raises the rent, the bill would prevent increases greater than 7%, plus the cost of inflation. Along with that stipulation, LD 1574 would prohibit landlords from raising the rent for a residential estate if the unit violates habitability standards.
Supica said during a public hearing on the measure earlier this month that the bill was modeled off a first-in-the-nation measure passed in Oregon in 2019 that she argued has helped provide increased stability and predictability for renters.
Ultimately, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday recommended that LD 1574 not be passed, severely imperiling its chances of being approved by the House and Senate. Democratic and Republican members of the committee who were present for the vote unanimously opposed the bill, although three lawmakers on the panel were absent.
In an interview Wednesday, Supica said she wonders about the breakdown of legislators who own their home versus the number of lawmakers who rent.
“I own my own home, but it hasn’t always been that case and I don’t know if there’s the same sense of urgency for these issues for people who really don’t see it because they’re in more stable forms of housing,” Supica said.
“I encourage both Judiciary [Committee] and the Joint Standing Committee on Housing to really try to understand the sense of urgency that we’re facing in the state,” she added.
In arguing for why LD 1574 is needed, Supica shared that the rents of some people in Bangor have been increased by upwards of $500 at a time, forcing people to scramble to cover the cost. Her bill would create stability for tenants, she said, and is an idea in the same vein as policies that have already been passed in municipalities like Portland and South Portland.
“I don’t think that rent stabilization is anything out of the box,” Supica said. “I think it’s actually something that seems to be fairly common practice in other municipalities. We just haven’t enacted it on a state level.”
Along with the rent stabilization aspect of the measure, Supica’s bill includes additional protections for tenants. The legislation would stipulate that a lease becomes a month-to-month agreement (at-will tenancy) if the lease agreement is not renewed or terminated upon its expiration unless a landlord provides 90 days of notice for the termination of a lease and a tenant has at least three lease violations.
Furthermore, the measure would allow a landlord to terminate a tenancy with 90 days written notice if they pay the tenant one month’s worth of rent. The requirement of paying a tenant one month’s worth of rent wouldn’t apply to landlords who own four or fewer housing units.
Finally, LD 1574 would restrict 30-day no-cause evictions by creating a framework for when such notices, which are currently allowed in almost any case, can be used.
The legislation received support from some advocates during the public hearing, who said the measure would be another tool to help keep people in their homes amid Maine’s housing crisis, which has become increasingly pronounced. Rental prices are rising quickly and evictions are spiking. Furthermore, there are around 15,000 people on waitlists for housing vouchers in the state, 40% of Maine renters are considered cost-burdened, homelessness is increasing and there is a shortage of about 20,000 affordable housing units.
Despite that, multiple landlords spoke out against the bill during the public hearing, continuing a trend this session of real estate interests opposing reforms to housing laws that advocates argue would better protect tenants.
In introducing the motion to sink LD 1574, Judiciary Committee Senate Chair Anne Carney (D-Cumberland) cited issues brought up by the committee’s analyst about potential problems with how the bill would interact with current statutes in Maine law. Carney also said the legislation covers many areas that have already been addressed in bills that the committee has sent to the floor of the legislature.
“I would ask the committee to consider whether this is not a bill that we can even take up at this time and that maybe we vote ought-not-to-pass on it but keep these ideas in mind for future work that we might undertake,” Carney said.
The committee ultimately followed that suggestion.
Along with its vote on LD 1574, the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday opted to carry over another housing-related bill, meaning it will be considered next year during the second session of the legislature. As Beacon previously reported, LD 1904, sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), would prohibit landlords from considering an applicant’s criminal history until after the housing owner has determined that a person meets all other qualifications for tenancy.
The proposal is essentially the housing equivalent of Maine’s “ban the box” law, which prevents employers from inquiring about someone’s criminal history in a job application, but allows them to ask such questions later in the process during an interview after the employer has deemed the applicant is qualified for the position.
Along with these measures, lawmakers are considering a slate of other housing bills this session that advocates hope will help alleviate the state’s dire affordability and homelessness crises. Measures in that list include additional bills to protect tenants and a measure to encourage the development of a “housing first” approach to address chronic homelessness. Furthermore, Gov. Janet Mills has proposed over $90 million in funding in her budget plan meant to help with housing needs in the state.