In pricey Portland, Maine, a jury says a former mayor who formed a tenants union can't be evicted

A landlord's attempt to evict a former Portland mayor who formed a tenants union amounted to retaliation, a jury concluded, allowing him to remain in his apartment against the landlord's wishes.

The landlord's lawyer contended efforts to evict Ethan Strimling began in 2021 because he was a difficult tenant, not because of his involvement with the tenants union that filed several complaints with the city.

In Maine, landlords can evict tenants without providing a reason. But it’s illegal to target someone for forming a tenants union, which is encouraged under a Portland rent control ordinance approved in November 2020 by residents of Maine's largest city. It's dealing with a housing crunch and rent that's approaching $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Strimling — a Democratic state senator before serving as mayor from 2015-2019, and a regular participant in political discussions on TV — requested a trial after a judge rejected his retaliation argument. The jury reached its outcome Thursday.

The outcome is important, he said: “Hopefully it will tell tenants out there that you can join unions and be stronger for it."

The jury's 8-1 decision in the civil lawsuit means Strimling can keep his apartment at the downtown Trelawny Building. Geoffrey Rice, who owns the apartment building, declined to comment to reporters.