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The Rights of Tenants in Maine

Lease

A lease is a written agreement you sign that reflects your agreement with your landlord. Leases include the names of the landlord and tenant, the address of the apartment, the length of the lease, and the day the rent is due. The majority of leases contain much more information than this. Read your lease fully and understand the conditions of the lease before you sign it. Leases provide the rules that you and your landlord agree to follow. This agreement you sign will affect the rights you have.

Rental Agreement

A rental agreement is a written agreement between you and your landlord that does not contain a “written lease.” Rental agreements do not specify the length of time you are a tenant as leases do. Read and understand the rental agreement before you sign it.

Tenancies at Will

You are a “tenant at will” if you rent without a lease. Maine law provides some protection for you if you are a “tenant at will.” An example of this protection is that your landlord must give you a written notice of eviction and some time to move out after this notice. If you still have not moved by the date specified, the landlord must get a court order to evict you.

Security Deposits

Anna’s rent for her new apartment is $400 a month. Anna was required to pay $600 the day her first month’s rent was due. Why did Anna have to pay an extra $200? Anna paid her security deposit as well as her first month’s rent. A security deposit is money you give to your landlord when you move in to cover any possible unpaid rent or damages. In Anna’s case her security deposit was the cost of half of her monthly rent, which was $200.
Your security deposit cannot be more than two times your monthly rent. Anna cannot use her security deposit to cover part of her last month’s rent unless her landlord agrees she can. If Anna’s landlord does not need money to cover unpaid rent or damages she will get her security deposit back after she moves out.

Landlords for “tenants at will” are required to return security deposits within 21 days after tenants have moved out and returned apartment keys. A landlord does not have to return all or part of a security deposit to a tenant if he/she has reason to keep it. If this is the case the landlord must notify the tenant in writing why he/she is not returning the security deposit. The notice must be within 21 days after the tenant has moved out and returned the key. The notice from the landlord must be sent to the tenant’s last known address.

If you have a lease, your landlord must return your security deposit to you if you don’t owe back rent or have not caused any damage. If your landlord has a reason to he/she can keep your security deposit. Your landlord must notify you in writing why he/she is not returning some or all of your security deposit. The notice must be within 30 days after you have moved out and returned your key. This notice from your landlord must be sent to your last known address.

To help ensure that Anna gets her security deposit back she is going to be responsible. Anna is going to get a receipt from her landlord when she pays her security deposit. She is going to put this receipt in her safe box so she does not lose it. Before Anna moved in she made a list of all the problems with the apartment. She made a copy and gave one to her landlord. Anna is going to try her best to pay all her rent on time while she is a tenant. She wants to avoid owing the landlord for late or back rent.

Before Anna moves out she will clean her apartment and throw out all the trash she’s collected. Anna will organize her belongings and take them all with her. She will make another list of the defects of the apartment before she moves out and she will have her friend look over the apartment as a witness. Anna is also going to take pictures of the condition of the apartment after she cleans it before moving out. Anna will leave her new address with her landlord so he sends her security deposit to her. If you follow the steps Anna follows, you will have a strong chance of getting your security deposit back in full.

Rent

If you pay a portion or all of your rent in cash your landlord must give you a receipt at the same time you make your payment. Rent receipts from landlords must include the amount you paid, the date of your payment, your name, what your payment was for and the landlord’s signature.

There is a case when landlords do not have to give rent receipts. If a landlord lives in the building he/she rents out and it has 5 apartments or less then the landlord does not have to give out rent receipts. If your landlord will not give receipts for rent, pay with a check or money order and keep rent payment records.

Your landlord can charge interest if your rent is not paid within 15 days after it is due. Late fees cannot be more than 4% of one month’s rent. In order to charge you a late fee, your landlord must notify you in writing when you move in that there will be a fee and the amount of it.

Your landlord can increase your rent. If you are a “tenant at will” your landlord must give you a 30-day written notice of any rent increases. If you work with a lease be sure to understand it. It is likely that your landlord cannot increase your rent. If you live in subsidized housing understand that your rent will change if your income changes. This is because rent is based on income for subsidized housing.

Landlords have to accept general assistance rent vouchers. A landlord cannot refuse rent from you because you are receiving financial assistance form your town or city. If you find that your landlord refuses to accept general assistance call the General Assistance Unit at the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta (800-442-6003).

Electric Charges for Areas You Share with Other Tenants (Common Areas)

Your landlord cannot make you pay alone for the cost of electricity in common areas. Examples of common areas are hallways, basements, or a common hot water heater or furnace that you share with other tenants.

Proper Notice Regarding Moving Out

If you are a “tenant at will” you must give your landlord a 30-day written notice that you are moving out. The notice period should end on a rent day. If you and your landlord agree beforehand on a shorter notice period, get the agreement in writing. If you have a lease, read and understand what it says regarding notification of moving out. Leases can be very specific about this issue. If you don’t give your landlord the proper notice then you may be charged for it. Your landlord must try to rent out the apartment you occupied as soon as she/he knows you have moved out of it. Your landlord can only charge you for the time you were in your apartment, and the time it took him/her to find a new tenant.

If You Abandon Property, There Are Consequences

When you move out of your apartment you should take all your belongings with you. If you owe back rent, damages or storage fees your landlord does not have to return to you the things you have left behind. If you have left property behind your landlord has to send a notice to you at your “last known address.” If you don’t claim your property after this, then your landlord can sell your property.

Your Right to Rent a Safe Apartment

Bill has a leak in the kitchen ceiling of his apartment that is making his place unsafe. For two days Bill has filled up four large buckets of water that he has mopped up from the spill. This is taking up too much of his time. Bill has left a detailed message for his landlord explaining the leak. His landlord has not returned his phone call yet. Bill is concerned. What legal protection does Bill have and what steps can he take to ensure his safety?

Under Maine law tenants are given an “implied warranty of habitability.” The “implied warranty of habitability” is issued to protect the safety of tenants. With an “implied warranty of habitability your landlord must promise that your home is safe and fit to live in. Bill’s landlord who is violating the “implied warranty of habitability” is denying Bill’s rights. Bill needs to try to contact his landlord again and ask him to fix the problem. If this does not work Bill should send a written demand to his landlord that he fix the problem. Bill should keep a copy of his letter for his records. If his landlord has still not fixed the problem Bill should contact City Hall. He will need to inform them of the reason his apartment is not safe. He will need to ask them about housing codes that apply to his situation. Bill can ask them to have the town's building code office or health inspector investigate his home for safety concerns.
After this investigation is complete Bill will have them send his landlord a letter demanding that he fix the leak. This should get Bill the help he needs to have his apartment safe again.

There are many ways your housing can become unsafe. Every apartment must include a working smoke alarm in or near all bedrooms. If you are Deaf or have a hearing disability you can ask to have a non-audible alarm put up. Some other examples of unsafe housing include heating problems, polluted water, roaches, broken windows, broken locks and more. Another way your home may be unsafe is if there is lead in your paint, dust or soil. To have your paint tested for lead, ask your landlord for help. Call the Health and Environmental Testing Lab at (207) 287-2727 and ask for the Environmental Lead Lab. They can test for lead for about $10.00.

Landlords Can Enter Tenants’ Homes

Landlords must give you a “reasonable notice” before they enter your home to make non-emergency repairs, or to show or inspect your apartment. A “reasonable notice” is normally 24 hours. Your landlord can only enter your home at “reasonable times.” “Reasonable times” are usually during the day or evening, not in the middle of the night. In an emergency situation, your landlord can enter your home with a shorter notice or without a notice.

You Can Be Evicted From Your Apartment

Tenant at Will

Your landlord can evict you without giving a reason if you are a “tenant at will.” However, if your landlord does this she must give you a 30 days notice in writing. “The notice is called a “Notice to Quit.” If you are a “tenant at will” your landlord can evict you with a 7-day notice if he/she has a reason to. However, your landlord must have a legitimate legal reason and must state the reason in writing. Your landlord needs to make 3 good faith efforts to give you the “Notice to Quit” in person. If your landlord still cannot locate you after that he/she may mail you the notice and leave a copy at your home.

Written Lease

If you have a written lease your landlord probably has to have a reason to evict you. If you have a lease read it carefully and understand what it says regarding evictions. Leases describe whether or not you can be evicted during the lease term. The reasons the landlord must have to evict you are located in the lease. Included in the lease is a description of the kind of notice your landlord must give you. Your landlord can’t evict you unless your lease has a “termination clause” that states that you can be evicted. A landlord cannot legally evict you without a court order. It is illegal for your landlord to throw you out by force. If you want to fight the eviction, you have a right to be heard in court. Seek legal advice immediately. If you cannot find a lawyer, call Pine Tree Legal at (207) 774-4753 and ask for help.

It is illegal for a landlord to evict you because of your:

  • race
  • color
  • sex
  • physical or mental impairment
  • religion
  • ancestry or national origin
  • getting welfare
  • being a single parent, being pregnant or having children

Subsidized Housing General Information

Your housing is “subsidized” by the government if a housing authority or agency pays all of part of your rent. If you need subsidized housing contact:

  • Maine State Housing Authority
    89 State House Station
    Augusta, Maine 04330
    Toll-free phone: (800) 452-4668
    TTY: (800) 452-4603

If you live in “subsidized housing” you should have a “standard lease.” A standard lease gives you more protection than leases for non-subsidized housing. Make sure you read your lease. Contact your local Pine Tree Legal office if you don’t understand your rights under your lease or if you are being evicted from subsidized housing.

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Table of Contents | Being Prepared for the Intake Process
Overview of Housing Options in Greater Portland
Housing Source Tip Sheets