Breaking a Lease in Maine

Breaking a Lease in Maine

Last Updated: July 18, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Maine, when they can’t, and if a landlord is required by Maine law to make reasonable effort to re-rent.

Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the understand requirements in Maine to end a tenancy.

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Maine

In Maine, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Maine tenants must provide written notice for the following lease terms (Maine Rev. Stat. §6002):

  • Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 30 days’ written notice.
  • Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days’ written notice. 
  • Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 30 days’ written notice.

Delivering Notice in Maine

A landlord may use one of the following methods to deliver notice:

  • Deliver in person;
  • Mailing a copy by first class mail.

There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Maine without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.

Questions? To chat with a Maine landlord tenant attorney, click here

1. Early Termination Clause

Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).

If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.

2. Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.

To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:

  • Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty.
  • Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days.
  • Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.

With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. For example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st therefore, rent is still due for the month of April.

note

In Maine, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.

3. Unit is Uninhabitable

Most states have specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Maine is no different.

If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted.”  As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under Maine landlord-tenant law.

According to Maine state law (Maine Rev. Stat. §6021), landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:

  • Habitable Unit. Implied warranty that the unit is fit for human habitation.
  • Heating. When the landlord is obligated to provide heat, that unit’s heater must be capable of maintaining a minimum temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, unless alternative arrangements are agreed to in writing. (§6021)
  • Heat and Utilities in Common Areas. A landlord may not rent out a unit where one tenant alone must pay for heating or electricity in common areas. (§6024)

For more information on habitability laws in Maine, click here.

note

If the tenant notifies the landlord of a condition that makes the unit unfit to live in, and which the tenant did not cause, but the landlord does not promptly and effectively remedy, the tenant may file a complaint against the landlord in District or Superior Court.

4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation

If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.

  • Landlord Entry. In Maine, reasonable notice is required from the landlord before entry, with 24 hours being presumed, and the landlord shall enter only at reasonable times. (Maine Rev. stat.§ 6025(2))
  • Changing the Locks. In some states, if the locks are changed by a landlord without the tenant’s permission or without the protection of specific language in the lease agreement, this can qualify as being “constructively evicted”, and could relieve the tenant of their duties of the lease. In Maine, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants. 

5. Mandatory Disclosures in Maine

Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Since these laws vary from state to state (and sometimes by city or county) it is important to have your agreement looked over by a landlord-tenant attorney in your state to guarantee the correct disclosures are included in your lease.

Some disclosure laws impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. Others contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease. If your landlord fails to provide you with a mandatory state or local disclosure speak with a Maine landlord-tenant attorney to determine what can be done.

Maine requires that landlords provide the following disclosures to tenants, normally in writing and at the start of the lease:

  • Radon Testing. According to Maine law, landlords must have the air tested for radon gas (every 10 years), unless a radon mitigation system has been installed. The landlord must provide tenants with the test results within 30 days or when the tenant enters a lease agreement. If the test results are 4.0 picocuries or more the landlord or tenant may terminate the least agreement. A 30 days’ notice must be given to either party. If the landlord doesn’t comply with this disclosure, they could face a fine up to $250 per violation and any failure to provide a written notice is a breach of the implied warranty of habitability and the tenant may terminate the lease. (Maine Rev. Stat. 14 §6030 )

6. Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking

Maine provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. In Maine, the Act to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking provides early termination rights for tenants who are victims, provided that specified conditions are met (such as the tenant securing a temporary restraining order). Below is more information on the special rental provisions:

  • Protection from Termination. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to a potential tenant because they were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Additionally, landlords cannot end a lease or refuse to renew a lease because the tenant was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Changing the Locks. A tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking may change the locks at their own expense. If the locks are changed by the tenant, they must provide the landlord with a duplicate key within 72 hours of changing the lock.
  • Proof of Status. A landlord is entitled to verify the claim of domestic violence status. The tenant can provide the following documentation to verify the claim:
    • A signed statement from a sexual assault counselor or victim witness advocate who is in Maine;
    • A signed statement from a licensed health care provider, a licensed mental health care provider, or a licensed law enforcement officer;
    • A copy of the protection from abuse complaint, temporary order or final order of protection;
    • A copy of the protection from harassment complaint, temporary order or final order of protection from harassment;
    • A copy of the police report; or
    • A copy of the criminal complaint, indictment or conviction for a domestic violence charge.

The tenant can provide a 7 days’ written notice including one of the documents mentioned above if the lease term is less than one-year or they may provide a 30 days’ written notice for a lease term more than a year. The tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking is not liable for any rent that is due beyond the notice date or when the tenant vacates the unit (whichever is later). If the tenant has prepaid the rent for the month, the landlord is not obligated to refund the rent for that month.

7. Other Reasons 

A tenant may have alternative reasons to terminate a lease early.  For example, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate the lease early, but are not always automatic and must be determined by a court:

  • Violation of the Lease Agreement. If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period).
  • Illegal or Unenforceable Contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable. (i.e. contracting with a minor)
  • Senior Citizen or Health Issue. Some states offer age or health-related lease-breaking arrangements that permit early lease termination.  If a tenant has a qualified disability the tenant may request early termination as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
note

The only federally required landlord disclosure pertains to lead-based. Known as Title X, this disclosure is designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil. Section 1018 of this law requires the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of housing built before 1978.

Questions? To chat with a Maine landlord tenant attorney, click here

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Maine

The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

  • They bought a house.
  • They are relocating for a new job or school.
  • They are upgrading or downgrading.
  • They are moving in with a partner.
  • They are moving to be closer to family.

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons without court approval or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.  If a tenant would like to break a lease for any of these reasons, the tenant should ask the landlord to agree to a mutual termination. 

Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-rent in Maine

Maine state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if a tenant leaves the lease early and the landlord re-rents the unit before the lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to your debt.

According to Maine law (Maine Rev. Stat. §6010-A), a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit instead of charging the tenant for the total remaining rent due under the lease. If a landlord re-rents the property quickly, all the tenant will be responsible for is the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Maine

If the lease does not prohibit subletting, then a tenant might be in the clear to sublet. However, the lease might contain a clause requiring a tenant to obtain a landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get the landlord’s approval, a tenant shall send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept that a tenant has notified the landlord.

The letter should include the following information:

  • Sublet term.
  • Name of proposed subtenant or assignee.
  • The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee.
  • Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently.
  • Your new address during the sublease if applicable.
  • The written consent of any co‑tenant.
  • A copy of the proposed sublease.

If a landlord rejects the request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law states that a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to sublet.

For more information and to get a FREE Maine sublease agreement click here.

Additional Resources for Maine Tenants & Landlords: