Bangor is considering an ordinance that would ban housing application fees, reaffirm housing discrimination laws and lengthen the amount of advance notice landlords must give tenants before raising their monthly rents from 45 days to 60. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

If you rent housing in Bangor, you may soon get new protections thanks to a proposed tenants rights ordinance.

If approved by the Bangor City Council on Monday, the rules would prohibit application fees, protect tenants from being evicted solely for reporting a problem and lengthen the amount of time landlords need to notify tenants before raising costs.

The ordinance would not, however, cap rent increases.

The proposed ordinance comes at a time when obtaining an affordable apartment or other rental unit is very competitive due to the housing shortage in the area, and landlords are at an advantage.

Most of the more than 10 landlords who offered city councilors feedback on the ordinance in a workshop Wednesday said it wouldn’t drastically change what they do now, but some had clarifying questions or worried about unintended consequences. City councilors and staff have tinkered with the proposed ordinance over months, and councilors gave it first approval earlier this month.

The proposed rules would eliminate housing application fees and cap screening fees at $75. Those fees pay for background checks, credit reports and eviction records. But a landlord can only screen applicants “they are seriously considering for tenancy of an available unit,” according to the draft language.  

Most landlords said they already don’t require application fees, but worried that being limited to charging screening fees for only applicants they’re seriously considering would lead to cherry picking one to run a background check on. Landlords said they could miss out on renting to people who would’ve turned out to be better tenants.

The proposed rules would also increase the amount of notice from 45 days to 60 that landlords must give tenants before raising rent costs. Landlords would be barred from any increases if there’s a code violation on the property.

The ordinance would reaffirm renters’ protection against housing discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, creed, nationality or familial status, which the Maine Human Rights Act prohibits.

The rules would also protect tenants from being evicted as retaliation if they voiced complaints about the property in the last six months, which matches a state statute.

Councilors added language to the ordinance that requires landlords to note in a unit advertisement how potential tenants can apply without a fee. They clarified, however, that landlords would not be at fault if applicants choose to apply through a rental advertising website, such as Zillow, which may charge their own fees.

Councilors also removed a rule in the proposed ordinance that would’ve banned landlords from advertising properties when they’re not available. This is because some housing organizations are required to take applications and build a waiting list for units, even when none are available.

More changes could be made to the rules when the council reviews the ordinance for a final time Monday.

Councilors stressed these rules weren’t created to target the “mom and pop” landlords who strive to take care of their tenants. They were written to ensure that out-of-state landlords and large property management companies’ councilors have received complaints about treat their Bangor tenants fairly.  

One Bangor tenant said the monthly rent on her condo was raised by more than $600 last October after the prior owner sold it. She told the new landlord she couldn’t afford the increase, then received an eviction notice a few months later and was told  to leave by the end of February.

“We’re being forced out and it doesn’t feel good,” she said. “We feel like the bad guys for simply living in the same place for over nine years and taking care of the location.”

The tenant said she’s in favor of the proposed ordinance because it would help level the playing field and reduce the power imbalance between tenants and landlords.

Some landlords worried this ordinance would be “punishing the masses for the actions of a few,” and it’d be more effective to target the landlords and companies councilors have received complaints about.

Former city councilor Ben Sprague advised councilors to not be too heavy-handed in their rulemaking and instead focus on partnering with private companies to create more housing to aid Bangor’s housing shortage.

“There will always be unscrupulous landlords and bad apples that give others a bad name, but I think, in Bangor specifically, most landlords are trying to do it the right way,” Sprague said. “It’s uncomfortable to think of a basic human need like housing being a for-profit activity, but that’s the system we have, but we can put guardrails on that.”  

Correction: The story has been updated to clarify a Bangor tenant’s rent increase.

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...