In 2019, Bangor’s priority for addressing the housing crisis was a rental registry. But the city is not any closer to establishing it.
Bangor City Councilor Cara Pelletier speaks during a council workshop on March 13, 2023. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

When Laura Supica joined the Bangor City Council six years ago, the city was facing many of the challenges it still grapples with today, with a top problem being a lack of housing.

In 2018, Supica was one of two city councilors appointed to a working group established to brainstorm how Bangor could combat its housing shortage. The No. 1 priority that the group identified was the need for a housing registry — a list of all the rental units in the city.

But, four years later, the city has failed to act on its top priority to help mitigate a housing crisis that has only gotten worse.

“It’s frustrating that it hasn’t happened and that the times that it was very definitively before the council, not enough people supported it,” Councilor Clare Davitt said. “That’s my personal frustration there.”

Since the work group’s report came out in March 2019, the City Council has had multiple opportunities to fund a rental registry, which is a program that could streamline inspection of rental properties and require a landlord to get a license. Establishing one has filtered on and off the City Council’s yearly goals since 2019.

Code Enforcement Director Jeff Wallace has sought funding for a rental registry almost every budget year. Yet every time, the city manager and City Council have failed to bring the measure to life.

At the same time, the city has been forced to grapple with a housing shortage that hasn’t gotten better, while its homeless population has continued to bloom, at one point requiring a federal disaster assistance team’s help.

Even since the 2019 report, the council has faced the question of establishing a rental registry multiple times. In more recent months, it has come about as a result of city discussions about short-term rentals, Davitt said.

The Bangor City Council has long debated a rental registry, but still has not come close to creating one.
Bangor City Councilors, from left, Laura Supica, Clare Davitt and Ben Sprague take their oath of office during induction ceremony on Nov. 10, 2017, file photo. Credit: Alex Aquisto / BDN

In fact, the measure has come up so often, some familiar with the topic, such as Davitt and Supica, who is now a state representative, thought the city had already created a registry.

“My understanding is that a while ago they voted to create a rental registry,” Supica said.

But when a Bangor Daily News reporter informed her that the city had not yet created one, Supica said it was “frustrating to hear.”

“I can’t remember any policies that came out of that [working group] except for the rental registry, so it’s disappointing that it hasn’t even been enacted yet,” she said. “It has been a long time, and, as someone who has been on council, it’s sad.”

In 2018, then-Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow helped form the foundational efforts that came to be the housing work group.

Generally speaking, Conlow said, the idea behind a rental registry was to help ensure that rental units were meeting minimum safety standards.

The registry would also help the city gather information about what the rental market looks like in Bangor to better understand and inform future city plans, Supica said.

“The City lacks data on the current supply of rental units in Bangor such as the number, size and quality of these units. To thoughtfully plan for current and future demand for rentals and ensure accountability for quality, the City requires a rental registry program with unit inspections,” according to the 2019 report.

Some apartments in Bangor already require regular inspection because the tenants receive public benefits that help them pay the rent. However, most housing assistance programs have slightly different inspection requirements. A registry could track which apartments in Bangor have already been inspected and by whom.

Bangor has many older buildings that were once single-family homes that have since been broken into apartments. That makes it difficult to tell from the outside whether larger buildings have been converted into smaller units, but a rental registry could give the city that information, Supica said.

While a registry would give tenants some assurance that the city is monitoring the cost and condition of rental units, landlords likely wouldn’t be in favor of the measure, said Scott Lawliss, a landlord in the Bangor area.

Lawliss owns rental units in Bangor, Brewer and Winterport, and he’s also the president of the Greater Bangor Apartment Owners and Managers Association. He said landlords are more inclined to oppose a registry because it would make their jobs more difficult, and there are already ways to hold landlords accountable.

“If you’re going to rent units, they have to meet certain requirements. And if people are renting apartments that don’t satisfy those requirements, we have a system in place so that landlords can be challenged and cited,” he said.

A rental registry in Bangor would likely be complicated and cost landlords — and possibly taxpayers — money, Lawliss said.

“It will make it a little bit harder, and a little bit more expensive to run apartments in the city of Bangor,” he said. “And it’ll just discourage people from getting into the business, and I just don’t think that’s what either landlords or tenants want.”

The 2019 report is far from the first time the city has considered creating a rental registry. In fact, Penobscot County had a registry 80 years ago, and the Bangor City Council has repeatedly faced the question of whether to establish one since at least the 1970s.

In more recent years, more than a dozen council committee conversations, advisory groups and proposed ordinances, all aimed at tracking the location and condition of rental housing units or controlling rents, were indefinitely tabled or fizzled out, according to a BDN review. 

The city’s code enforcement office has repeatedly asked for funding to create a rental registry, but the City Council has rejected such requests, usually unanimously, for years.

In 2020, Supica’s last year on the council, code enforcement requested $232,420 to establish a rental registry, but Conlow did not recommend the item for approval despite spearheading the effort for a registry two years prior, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The entire council approved the budget, including councilors Davitt and Supica.

Supica couldn’t remember why she approved a budget that omitted funding for a rental registry, but she recalled the city’s priorities shifting drastically after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine in March 2020. Several proposed programs and projects were tabled or fell through.

The most recent attempt to fund a registry was in 2022 when the code enforcement office requested $299,000.

City Manager Debbie Laurie did not recommend the item for approval, however, and the budget passed unanimously without funding for a registry.

The item also was not included in this year’s budget, which city councilors approved in June.

Historically, a city manager’s proposed budget in Bangor has never recommended funding for a new program, Laurie said, which is why she has not recommended a registry for approval.

“Whether or not a program is created or eliminated should be a topic of public discussion and not the action of staff,” Laurie said in an email to the BDN. “The inclusion of a new program allows the item to be identified by staff and advanced for public discussion in various workshops.”

In other cities in Maine, such as Sanford, the city’s rental registry program has its a dedicated code enforcement staff and is funded entirely through fees paid for by landlords.

The program in Sanford requires landlords to get an annual license for their rental units and periodic life safety inspections, according to Ian Houseal, the city’s director of community development.

In Bangor, a rental registry would likely be housed in the city’s code enforcement office as it has in the past. For years, Penobscot County had a rental registry and rent control office that determined what fair rent was and ensured rental units were safe.

At some point by the 1970s, the Penobscot County Area Rent Stabilization Advisory Board disappeared, prompting a renewed effort in 1971 to again register apartments. That effort failed, according to city and county records, and the BDN’s archives.

Two years later, in 1973, a City Council committee reviewed the rental stock and called for “an ordinance providing for the licensing of rental housing,” according to the committee’s report.

Again, that didn’t happen.

Repeatedly since 1974 records show there were other efforts to recreate a registry. But it wasn’t until 2015 when then-Community and Economic Director Tanya Emery brought the idea of a rental registry in front of the City Council’s government operations committee.

The program would move beyond the idea of the city only inspecting units in which city general assistance dollars were used to support renters, Emery described to the committee.

The committee — which was largely made up of city councilors — gave its support for the idea, with a launch of it by May 1, 2015, according to the minutes.

But that didn’t happen.

During her three years on the City Council, Supica said she watched Bangor leaders get close to making a decision only to pull back for one reason or another.

“There are a lot of reasons to delay and not do something that sounds logical at the time, like ‘staff don’t have the bandwidth’ and ‘we don’t want to make bad policy,’” she said. “I don’t remember all the reasons we delayed the rental registry … but I’ve seen it happen with other policies.”

In more recent years, the conversation around a rental registry has gravitated toward regulating short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, through a registry, said Davitt, who currently sits on the council.

“I’m still not clear why one has to happen before the other,” she said.

The BDN reached out to all nine councilors to ask whether they support creating a registry.

Only four councilors responded: Davitt, Cara Pelletier, Jonathan Sprague and Joe Leonard. Only two, Davitt and Pelletier, clearly expressed support. Leonard and Sprague both preferred to wait until the council could discuss the measure again in the coming months.

Davitt has been on the council for six years now, and she believes the failure to enact a rental registry falls squarely on the shoulders of Bangor’s councilors, she said.

“It falls on the entire council, I would say, to stay on top of things and make sure it’s happening, support and give staff specific direction, which doesn’t always happen,” Davitt said. “So I would say that the onus falls pretty solidly on the council.”

Supica feels the blame partially rests on the city manager.

“It’s not the council’s job to make and implement policies. The staff does that, and they present it to us, and we give our opinion,” Supica said. “The city manager is supposed to work with city departments, under the supervision of the City Council and council chair. It falls on the city manager and council chair to make sure it gets implemented.”

Sawyer Loftus may be reached at Kathleen O’Brien may be reached at

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...

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...