A view of some of the apartments in downtown Bangor. Credit: Nick McCrea / BDN

Bangor city councilors unanimously approved a new rule designed to strengthen tenants’ rights and protect renters from unfair fees after a months-long revision process that stirred some pushback from local landlords.

The city began developing the new rule in October 2022 after receiving complaints from residents about rents being raised suddenly by hundreds of dollars last summer, adding to an already competitive housing market and the challenges of a growing group of homeless people.

While the new language being added to the city’s code of ordinances is designed to ensure landlords treat Bangor residents fairly, it does not shield tenants from rental increases.

The approval of the new protections follows months of city staff and the council’s Government Operations Committee editing the rules and fielding debates, questions and complaints from tenants and landlords alike.

The new rule stops landlords from charging potential tenants a fee to apply for a property. Landlords are still allowed to post housing advertisements on real estate websites such as Zillow, which may carry their own application fees.

Screening fees, which pay for background checks, credit reports and eviction records, are also capped at $75, but a landlord can only charge “a successful applicant who is to be a tenant in the housing unit,” according to the new rule. Those screening fees will be due with a tenant’s first month’s rent payment.

Landlords are then responsible for keeping records for two years of the amounts of screening fees collected and returned, and acknowledgment from tenants that they received them.

The rule also increases the amount of notice from 45 days to 60 that landlords must give tenants before raising rent costs.

The ordinance reaffirms 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.

Landlords are required to give tenants documents at the beginning of their tenancy that explain the rights and responsibility of both tenants and landlords.

Bangor tenants who have had their rents raised to unsustainable prices have chimed in throughout the revision process to champion the new rules, believing they’ll help level the playing field between landlords and their tenants.

The initial version of the rule proposed capping monthly rent increases and prohibiting landlords from advertising units that weren’t currently available as well, though landlords quashed those clauses in the revision process.

Several local landlords have said the rules wouldn’t change their current practices, but some  worried the changes aim to “punish the masses for the actions of a few,” said landlord Michael Hill. He suggested it would be more effective to target the landlords and companies councilors have received complaints about.

City councilors have reiterated that the rules weren’t developed 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.

“It was not an easy deliberation, but I feel this is a step in the right direction,” Councilor Dina Yacoubagha said. “I had some struggles figuring this out and deciding how to proceed, but in the end, we had to do this to protect tenants and achieve some equity and equality in accessing housing.”

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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...