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Renting and Evicting: Landlord/Tenant Law for Landlords in Maine*
Produced by the Maine State Bar Association and distributed by the Lawyer Referral & Information Service as a public service. November, 2005
This is a general explanation of the legalconsiderations regarding renting and evictingand should be used for informational purposes only. For a more detailed explanation,consult the Maine Consumer Law Guide putout by the Department of the Attorney General,and available at the department’s website,www.maine.state/AG. You will find anothe ruseful publication by clicking on the Legal Library icon on the www.helpmelaw.org homepage.
- If your tenant is 7 days or more behind onthe rent, you may start eviction. The first stepis to give the tenant a written notice ofeviction, or “Notice to Quit,” stating theamount of rent owed. The governing statutesset out required language for this notice.
- You can evict a tenant at-will with a 30-daywritten “Notice to Quit.” You may NOT,however, evict a tenant for filing a complaintor a suit regarding unsafe living conditions.
- If you and the tenant have a lease, you MAYNOT evict the tenant until the term of the lease expires, unless the tenant has broken aterm of the lease, and the lease itself statesexpressly that breaking the term is groundsfor eviction.
If the tenant does not vacate the premiseswithin the time given in the “Notice to Quit,”the next step is to begin an action for “ForcibleEntry and Detainer.” This can be done by filing in district court, and having the sheriff serve the tenant with a hand-delivered summons. There are deadlines that pertain inthese actions.
If you own your rental property as an individual, you may represent yourself. Corporations and LLCs must be representedby an attorney.
At the hearing you and the tenant may each present witnesses and evidence. The judgewill decide if the tenant can be evicted. When a tenant does not appear at the hearing,eviction usually goes in favor of the landlord. Seven days from the judgment, if the tenanthas not moved, you can get a “Writ ofPossession” from the court, and have it servedby the sheriff. The tenant has another 48 hoursto leave. After 48 hours, the tenant istrespassing.
If the property left behind is worth $750or less, you may remove it from the premises. It must be stored in a safe, dry location, and you must mail the tenant an itemized list ofthe property you have, and a notice statingthat you will sell it to pay for back rent,damages, and cost of storage and sale. If thetenant responds within 14 days, you must givethe tenant 10 more days to pick up the goods. If the tenant does not pay any amount due, you are allowed to keep the goods.
If the property is worth more than $750,you MUST report it to the State Treasurer,who may authorize you to sell it.
Renting and Evicting
Landlord/Tenant Lawfor Landlords
Maine has detailed laws governingrelations between landlords and tenants. Four major areas of legal requirement areleases, security deposits, eviction, andabandoned property.
As a landlord you:
- refuse to show or rent a unit because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation,etc., or because a tenant receives general assistance rent vouchers.
- impose terms or conditions on somerenters and not others.
- ask if someone has children, or imposespecial rules for them.
• make requirements regarding the. relationships of occupants.
• restrict the number of occupants based on the size of the unit.
• make disclosures to tenants concerning the dangers of lead-based paint if the unit you are renting is in a house built before 1978. This is a federal law.
ALSO IMPORTANT TO KNOW
- Landlords must give 45 days written noticeof rent increases.
- Landlords may charge late fees when rent is 15 or more days late. The maximum allowablelate fee is 4%.
- Landlords must always provide a precise receipt for cash paid for rent or security: the tenant’s canceled check is not sufficient.
LEASES & TENANCY AT WILL
- Leases may state that they can be terminatedwithout cause.
- Leases may not state that the landlord can recover attorney fees in court except for“wanton disregard of the terms of the rentalagreement.”
- If a tenant breaks a written lease before the term ends, you may be able to collect rent anddamages. However, if you could reasonablyhave rented the apartment out to a new tenant,you may not be able to collect for all theremaining months in the tenants lease.
- Rent agreements without a written lease orwhere a lease has expired are considered “tenancy at will.”
- You may not collect more than two month’s rent for security. In other words, a landlordmay collect “first, last and deposit” but no more.
- Security deposits must be held in a bank account designated as a “Security Deposit Account.” Deposits from different units do not have to be in separate accounts.
- You are NOT required to pay the tenant the interest that has accrued to that deposit when returning it at the end of rental.
- When the tenant leaves, you may deductexpenses to repair damages beyond “normal wear and tear” from the security deposit, butnot for routine cleaning, repainting, ornormal wear. These expenses must beitemized. Keep receipts!
- If you keep all or part of a deposit, youmust actually mail written notice to the tenant,specifying why. The notice must be mailedwithin 20 days of vacancy if the tenant ismonth-to-month and 30 days if the tenant ison a lease. Keep proof of mailing!
- If you do not comply with the laws whenretaining security deposits, you may be liablefor double damages plus attorney fees.
Eviction is a very specific legal process. If you skip steps or do them incorrectly, you can incur added expenses and even penalties. Please note that eviction is a “summary process” and does not include a monetary award. Pursuing repayment for back rent or damages beyond what a security deposit may cover will entail a separate court process in either small claims court (for totals of $4,500or less) or district court for larger amounts.
- The only person who can legally remove the tenant and tenant’s property is a law enforcement officer, and then only after the court has awarded you a judgment specifying an eviction date.
- You may NOT break into the tenant’s home ,remove belongings, change locks, or shut offheat or utilities.
- Tenants may be evicted at any time of the year including winter.
- Tenants may be evicted even if they have children.
*Individual situations will vary. Landlord laws change every year. You are encouraged to seek the advice from your own attorney for the most up to date information .