Tenants to Recommend Landlord/Tenant Board to Task Force; 1/5/ City Hall

Leila Hunter Advised the Tenants Group to Keep it All Simple so Everyone Can Understand the Language.

Leila Hunter Advised the Tenants Union  to Keep it All Simple So Everyone Can Understand the Language.

Grace Damon, One of  Two Founders of the Tenants Group, Displays a T-Shirt For Sale as a Fundraiser for the Group.

Grace Damon, One of Two Founders of the Tenants Union, Displays a T-Shirt For Sale as a Fundraiser for the Group. The cost is $5. Each and They Come in a Variety of Sizes and Colors.  Email Grace for more.

MIke DeLong Went to Court Against His Landlord's Excessive Rent Increase and Won.

MIke DeLong Went to Court Against His Landlord’s Excessive Rent Increase,  He  Won! DeLong Works Two Jobs to Make Ends Meet.

ByCarol McCracken  (Post # 2,273)

Fire safety issues, out-of-control rent increases, lack of enforcement by the city and the lack of communication between involved city agencies were among the myriad of problems discussed at the first meeting of a newly formed tenants organization –  the Portland Tenants’ Union.. The Union was created to respond to the city’s Fire Safety Task Force.  No tenant was assigned to be part of the task force organized by the city’s Acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian; an act of omission that many find to be insulting and a slap in the face to a majority of the population in the city of Portland.  The new tenants union is the idea of Grace Damon, a friend of one of the deceased at the Noyes Street fire in early November 2014. Catherine Wilson, is the other co-founder of the tenants’ union.

Because no tenant was seated at the Fire Safety Task Force, an attorney from Pine Tree Legal attended the initial meeting this afternoon.  She will report to the Task Force on Monday, January 5th afternoon, the recommendations of this group as well as recommendations based on  her own work as an attorney for low-income tenants in the city.   The Task Force meeting is set for 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm in Room 24, the basement at city hall.  It’s  open to the public.

The city’s Fire SafetyTask force was convened because of the horrific fire at 20-24 Noyes Street that left  six dead and received national media coverage – negative publicity that no city trying to reinvent its image to attract a younger and educated workforce wants to receive. Housing matters. (Wilson’s son was one of the tenants who lived at the Noyes Street address and one of the seven tenants who escaped the fire back in November.)  Tenant issues have long been ignored by the City of Portland, despite one of the oldest housing stocks in the country.  “Portland needs housing code enforcement, not code encouragement,” wrote Michael Denney in today’s “Portland Press Herald,” editorial page.  Denney a housing code inspector and landlord-tenant investigator for 31 years in Baltimore, Maryland attended the meeting today. Some believe that had the city practiced  enforcement of code violations, the Noyes Street fire might have been averted. The city should consider licensing all rental properties.  “You shouldn’t expect bad landlords to comply with the law, The City needs to avoid ‘death by fire,’ ” he told the tenants.

Lelia Hunter, a Munjoy Hill renter, told the twenty or so that “tenants are scared because of what happened on Noyes Streets…. Tenant education needs to be accessible for immigrants as well as non-immigrants.  Keep all the language as simple as possible so that everyone can understand it,” Hunter advised the group.

Among the list of recommendations to be delivered to the City’s Fire Safety Task Force next week is the establishment of  a landlord/tenant board.  It would function much as the other city boards do.  Tenants could bring issues to the board for resolution.The board would also be empowered to make policy recommendations to the city council for its adoption.  Landlords Carlton Winslow and Crandall Toothaker, speaking on their behalf only, supported the idea of a Board.  “98% of problems could be resolved in this way,” said Carlton Winslow.  A vote of the Board itself would resolve the issue with no outside influence.

Another issue to be recommended is the establishment of voluntery rent guidelines.  They could be linked to the consumer price index.  Rent guidelines are in contrast to rent control which is legally enforceable.

“Renters in Portland have little protection,” said Beckett Street resident Mike DeLong. On August 4, 2014 his building was sold to two out-of-state owners.  He was given 45 days notice by them that his rent was doubling.  It went from $850. plus heat to $1,400. plus heat per month.  This despite the fact that no improvements were made to the building.  There were serious lead contamination problems among others that warned renters with children from renting any of the units in the building.  DeLong went to District Court in Portland, representing himself. The Judge agreed with him.  His rent was rolled back to $850. plus heat.  DeLong works two jobs to keep pace  with his financial obligations.

The next meeting of the Portland Tenants’ Union is Thursday, January 22, 2015 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. at 1 Marginal Way, on the second floor, at A Space for Grace.    All tenants are invited to attend.

For more information on the Union or to order a T-Shirt, please email Grace at:  aspaceforgrace@outlook.com