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Portland landlord goes to court to keep rents private

Nov. 8 – A Portland landlord will be in court on Tuesday to challenge a provision of a city ordinance that requires itemized rent disclosure.

Bayview Court LLC and Eastern Promenade Limited Liability Co., which are owned by Lloyd Lathrop and lease 102 units in Portland, filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court in March 2021, after voters passed an order to rent control.

The ordinance requires landlords to disclose to the city current rents, any rent increases from the previous year, the reasons for the increases, and security deposit amounts. This information, which is “anonymized” to “not include the names or street and unit numbers of the reported units”, is intended to inform a rent board created by the initiative.

The initiative survived a larger lawsuit by the Southern Maine Landlord Association in July 2021, which argued the new law was vague and inconsistent with state and federal laws.

The owner in the pending lawsuit claims the required information should be considered “trade secrets” and therefore shielded from public records requests submitted to the city. The lawsuit argues that the information should only be available to city employees responsible for administering the ordinance, not the general public.

“Companies’ determination of rents reflects years of experience in assessing rental market trends and directions, financial analysis of investment levels (for example, in infrastructure improvements and service) that the market will support, how investments should be made and how they can be recouped, price analysis of inventory levels, and expert advice that companies buy from consultants,” the lawsuit states. “Company compilations derive significant economic value from the fact that they are not generally known.”

The city asked the court to dismiss the case earlier this year, arguing the information is not a “trade secret” under Maine law and is already disclosed on websites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Apartments.com.

Cumberland County Superior Judge Thomas McKeon denied that motion in July. A one-day trial, without a jury, was announced on September 15, after unsuccessful settlement talks.

The Portland Press Herald intervened in the case last year, supporting the public’s right to access rental information.

The trial, on Zoom, begins at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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