A woman holds her dog in a dino costume
Cassandra English holds her dog Bowie in their South Portland duplex at Redbank Village before going to her first chemotherapy treatment on Friday morning, May 27, 2022. The new, California-based corporate owners of the housing development served English with an eviction notice in January. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Cassandra English wanted to be able to provide her 19-year-old daughter the support she always wished she had in college, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. So they both moved into Redbank Village in South Portland late last year.

Now both face eviction after their rent went up by more than $400 a month, leading to financial difficulties for English. The process has brought on stress compounded by the 40-year-old’s recent cancer diagnosis.

They are not the only ones. Eviction proceedings have been undertaken against more than 30 people across 18 units at the 500-unit complex since the beginning of November, the month that Los Angeles-based JRK Property Holdings purchased the complex, according to an analysis of court records by the Bangor Daily News. Several have been forced out since then.

An increase in new evictions could come as Redbank increases rent for its residents and Maine tenants reach the end of their 12-month eligibility for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program during a housing crisis in southern Maine, said Katie McGovern, a lawyer with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a legal aid group representing several clients Redbank is seeking to evict.

Redbank, which has had other out-of-state owners in the past, has long had a “steady stream” of evictions, McGovern said. She said it had not substantially changed under JRK Holdings so far, but it could soon after a well-publicized round of sharp rent increases.

“These new rent increases are just taking effect or are about to take effect,” McGovern said. “I would think that the evictions would come a little bit in the future for those who aren’t able to make those new rents.”

Cassandra English is facing eviction from her South Portland apartment.
Cassandra English sits at the kitchen table in her South Portland duplex at Redbank Village on Friday morning, May 27, 2022. The new, California-based corporate owners of the housing development served English with an eviction notice some months ago and now she said she has no idea where she will go. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The company has been hit with accusations of its properties undertaking evictions in an aggressive manner in the past, including in Colorado and Washington. The federal government paused most evictions near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that moratorium was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in August.

Data from Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions across the U.S., found that people of color and women are more likely to face eviction proceedings. The poverty levels of communities also appear to play a role.

Many of those served with the notices owed thousands of dollars in back rent, though some owed less than $1,000. One tenant who was served on March 8 and ordered to leave by March 15 owed just $325 at the time they were served, though Redbank later dismissed the case.

JRK Holdings did not respond to multiple requests for comment about their eviction practices as well as planned rent increases. Redbank was represented throughout by lawyer David Chamberlain, who focuses on landlord-tenant law.

Chamberlain most recently represented landlord Geoffrey Rice in his successful effort to evict former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling from his downtown Portland apartment. Strimling is appealing that ruling. Some tenants were represented by lawyers with Pine Tree Legal Services. Many others did not consult lawyers.

Redbank’s rent hikes have drawn the ire of South Portland officials, many of whom are concerned that the complex may have violated an ordinance on notices for rent hikes, according to the Portland Press Herald. That policy requires a 75-day notice for rent increases.

The eviction notices came in rounds: two on Nov. 4, seven on Jan. 10 and seven on March 8. Each gave around one month to vacate the premises except in March, which gave a week.

Originally unsure if she could afford the first price offered for a unit at Redbank, English said she was subsequently offered a rent $300 lower from the previous owners that she accepted late last year. Shortly after signing the lease, she received notice that JRK Holdings had bought the property and would raise rents.

“I feel like I just got manipulated into being here,” English said. “They know that people are just looking for a cheap place to move into.”

Behind on her rent by around $4,000 — less than two payments at her current level — English was given an eviction on Jan. 10 that ordered her out by Feb. 9. She has not left and Redbank has begun eviction proceedings. Her hearing is scheduled for June 9.

She said the process has been extremely stressful, especially because she was recently diagnosed with cancer. She started chemotherapy on May 27.

She said staff at Redbank itself seemed “baffled” at the number of evictions occurring right now, especially since many, including English, have applied for COVID-19 rent relief from The Opportunity Alliance, a South Portland-based social services organization.

“I don’t know if I’m going to show up one day and have my locks changed,” English said.