March 24, 2020
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Portland mayor asks landlords to halt evictions and rent increases

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland Mayor Kate Snyder is seen in this Dec. 2, 2019, file photo.

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PORTLAND, Maine — Portland’s mayor is asking the city’s landlords to not evict tenants or raise rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

“While I’ve been reassuring people that evictions are not happening now due to the closure of courts, I’d like to ask landlords for their cooperation during this time, and for several months following the recovery, to work with renters as we all manage our way through this crisis,” Snyder said in a statement. “It’s imperative to ensure that our residents are housed and protected, as many are facing unforeseen changes in their employment and income status.”

Snyder asked for “community commitments” to halt evictions for 90 days for renters “who can show they have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” referring to the illness caused by the coronavirus. She advised against rent increases for 90 days, and asked landlords to “create payment plans for residents who are unable to pay their rent because of the outbreak and waive late fees for those residents.”

But landlords aren’t prevented from evicting tenants after the 90 days if they are still late on payments, said Frank d’Alessandro, a lawyer and policy director with Maine Equal Justice Partners.

While homeowners can reduce or suspend their mortgage payments for up to 12 months during the national emergency brought on by the pandemic, renters can’t, although D’Alessandro said “there is guidance to the public housing agencies not to proceed with evictions.”

A city spokesperson said Snyder consulted Brit Vitalius of the Southern Maine Landlords Association before crafting a strategy to deal with housing issues during the pandemic, when many tenants are out of work.

“It’s critical that tenants and landlords are communicating with each other so that they can achieve agreement about how to weather the coming weeks and months together,” Vitalius said, emphasizing the importance of “communication” between landlords and tenants.

Maine’s largest city includes a comparatively high number of low-wage workers in the service and hospitality industry, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. Restaurants have been ordered to suspend all dine-in services, sending most restaurant workers to the unemployment line.

The country waits as Congress debates a rescue package totaling nearly $2 trillion designed to provide economic relief to individual Americans. Democrats have proposed a bill that would include cash payments of $2,000 to adults, with an additional $1,000 per child until the crisis is over. Republicans are proposing a bill that would give tax cuts to corporations and would issue a single payment between $600 and $1,200 to adults who make under $75,000 per year.

 


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