Former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling testifies during an eviction trial at Cumberland County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 12. Strimling and his attorney say Geoffrey Rice have tried to evict him because of his efforts to form a tenants union. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

A judge has ruled that a landlord can evict Portland’s former mayor from his downtown Portland apartment.

Ethan Strimling had argued that his landlord’s eviction attempt was retaliation for his efforts to form a tenants’ union and fight illegal rent hikes, but a District Court judge disagreed.

Justice Susan Oram ruled Wednesday that landlord Geoffrey Rice’s actions were not retaliatory and that he can evict Strimling. The decision came about a week after the high-profile eviction trial involving Strimling, who served as Portland’s mayor from 2015 to 2019.

Strimling’s attorney Scott Dolan condemned the ruling on Thursday and said that he and Strimling will likely file an appeal for a jury trial based on factual disputes in the case.

The decision has dire ramifications far beyond the present case, Dolan said. If it is allowed to stand, it would permit landlords in Maine to retaliate against tenants with the most negligible of excuses, he said.

“It sends a chilling message to any tenant who participates in a tenants’ union, attempts to negotiate with their landlord for better living conditions or files a complaint to the government for code violations,” Dolan said.

Rice’s attorney, David Chamberlain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment at his law office. A staff member at Apartment Mart, the office from which Rice manages his properties, said he was unable to comment on the case right now due to being in Florida.

Evicting a tenant for involvement in a tenants’ union is illegal in Maine. But Oram said that the evidence had shown that it was Strimling’s behavior as a tenant — including resisting rent increases and violating his lease’s prohibition on open windows during cold months — that had caused Rice to want to stop renting to him in his Trelawny apartment building.

“The decision not to renew the lease was based, in part, on the fact that Strimling’s lease was well below market for a similar unit, and, in part, because Rice was tired of Strimling ‘nickel and diming’ Trelawny over the years of the business relationship,” Oram wrote. “The resistance to paying the window fine was the last straw.”

Oram also noted that Rice had decided to evict Strimling before the Trelawny Tenants’ Union, which Strimling was a member of, complained to the city about potential housing ordinance violations. In addition, few of the tenants involved in making that complaint had been issued notices of non-renewals on their lease, she said.