In this Nov. 2017 file photo, a for rent sign hangs outside a Portland building. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A landlords’ association is seeking to block the implementation of a rent control ordinance after Portland residents voted to pass the referendum in November.

The lawsuit comes at a time when both landlords and renters are seeking reliefs due to the economic hit brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Southern Maine Landlord Association filed the lawsuit with the Maine Supreme Court in Portland saying the ordinance used the citizen initiative process improperly and conflicts with state and federal statutes, the Portland Press Herald reported.

The ordinance, one of four referendums passed by voters in November, would cap rent increases to the rate of inflation and extend the amount of eviction notice landlords have to give tenants. The measure applies to units owned by larger property owners, exempting dwellings of four or fewer units where the owner also resides.

The measure would also create a Rent Board to review requests by landlords to raise rents. The suit claims, however, that the board — which has not gone into effect — would be biased against landlords because at least three out of the seven members would be tenants, the Press Herald reported.

The first part of the ordinance went into effect Dec. 4 and the rest on Jan. 1 with the board expected to be set up next month. However, a delay in implementation would be harmful to thousands of Portland tenants, Jack O’Brien, organizer for People First Portland, told the Press Herald.

A federal stimulus bill passed in December included $25 billion for rental relief, with a minimum payment of $200 million going to states. It is more than eight times the total that the state spent on rental relief last year, allowing the state to cover some tenants’ rent for up to a year. However, the relief program is not up and running yet.