In Maine, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Maine varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Maine law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Maine
Landlord Responsibilities. Like most other states, Maine requires its landlord to provide and maintain certain amenities within their rental units, even when those units are occupied. Though a shorter list than most, these following amenities must be present and operating in good repair in order for a Maine rental space to be considered “livable”:
- Waterproofed ceiling
- Adequate supply of hot and cold water
- Adequate heating
- Proper plumbing
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and lighting
Maine landlords may be required to provide other amenities and make other types of repairs based on habitability standards if an applicable lease calls for it. As such, a Maine landlord may also be required to fix an AC unit or a stove, for example, but only if those appliances are specifically allotted to the tenant through the lease.
In all cases, tenants in Maine are entitled to timely repairs on any and all of the essential amenities outlined above. To that end, landlords in Maine must make repairs requested by their tenant within 14 days of receiving the request. Failing to do so may cause the unit to become statutorily uninhabitable, which the affected tenant may use as justification to immediately terminate their lease, in turn.
Tenant Responsibilities. Maine tenants are required to maintain an implied cleanliness standard in and around their rented unit at all times. Specifically, they should maintain their rented space in a condition that it does pose a risk of damage to the structure itself or put any other tenant’s health or safety at risk.
Maine landlords are tasked with ensuring that this cleanliness standard is upheld and often include provisions for the same into their lease. Even if no provision for cleanliness enforcement exists in a given lease, a Maine landlord may request their tenant to remedy any unclean or unsafe conditions at their discretion. Maine does not specify how quickly this cure must occur, but it is likely based on the 7-Day Notice period used for other lease infractions.
Tenants in Maine also have a right to take “alternative action” against their landlord in situations where that landlord appears to have fallen short of their responsibilities under the implied warranty of habitability. Specifically, an affected tenant may deduct up to $500 or half of ½ month’s rent from a given leasing period payment for costs associated with a necessary repair. Alternatively, a Maine tenant may withhold rent, but only in a situation where their landlord has failed to pay a utility bill that is necessary for general habitability.
Evictions in Maine
Maine tenants may be evicted with cause for any of the following reasons, according to Maine’s current landlord-tenant laws:
- Nonpayment of rent – If a Maine tenant fails to pay rent on time (even after the passage of an applicable grace period), their landlord may serve them notice of their late payment by charging an applicable fee and issuing a 7-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. If all of outstanding rent is still not received at the conclusion of that 7 day period, the Maine landlord in question may pursue formal eviction against their tenant by filing a Forcible Entry Detainer.
- Violation of lease terms – When a “material lease provision” is broken by a Maine tenant, their landlord may serve them notice of the same in the form of a 7-Day Notice to Quit which outlines how that infraction may be resolved. If the action or behavior is not adequately resolved after the 7th day of notice elapses, then the landlord in question may continue on to seek formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry Detainer.
- Illegal Acts – Landlords in Maine are supposed to treat “illegal acts” taken by their tenants in a similar manner to “material” lease infractions when it comes to eviction. As such, as soon as an adequately illegal act takes place (according to the landlord’s discretion), they may serve a 7-Day Notice to Quit. If a resolution cannot be struck between the landlord and their tenant in that time, then the tenant will face a forced eviction after the 7th notice day passes.
Evictions without a lease. “At-will” tenants in Maine do not enjoy the regular benefits of a lease when it comes to matters of eviction. However, they do enjoy statutory protections against sudden evictions all the same. Specifically, Maine tenants who rent without a lease are entitled to 30 days of advance notice before they can be evicted without a cause. However, if the landlord in question has a cause (such as a documented illegal act), then that notice period shrinks to only 7 days.
Illegal Evictions. Maine tenants cannot be evicted on discriminatory grounds, regardless of if their landlord’s reasons for pursuing eviction were explicit or implicit. Moreover, Maine prohibits its landlords for seeking evictions on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, national origin, or familial status.
Tenants in Maine are also protected from retaliatory evictions, in which their landlord seeks to evict them in direct connection with taking one of several protected actions in prior 6 months. These protected actions include:
- Making one or more repair requests
- Filing a health or safety complaint with a local regulatory authority
- Filing a fair housing or discrimination complaint
- Informing the landlord that they or their child has been a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking
- Joining a tenant union
Security Deposits in Maine
In order for a Maine landlord to legally collect, maintain, and redistribute security deposits obtained from their tenants, they must follow these standards and limitations imposed by the state’s landlord-tenant laws:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Maine currently places a standard limit on how much a landlord operating in the state can charge a tenant as a recruit deposit. Specifically, Maine tenants cannot be charged more than the value of 2 months’ rent as a security deposit. This does not include pet deposits, which are not statutorily limited in value, alone or when paid as part of a regular security deposit.
- Interest and Maintenance – Landlords in Maine must maintain their collected security deposits in a banking institution. These funds cannot be co-mingled with personal funds or other business funds. Maine does not require that these maintained funds incur interest. Moreover, Maine’s current rules relating to security deposit maintenance does not require that any collected interest be paid out to anyone other than the landlord.
- Time Limit for Return – When no deductions are necessary, Maine landlords are required to immediately return any and all security deposits on the day the applicable tenant’s tenancy ends. However, if deductions become necessary, the Maine landlord in question must provide an itemized list explaining those deductions within 30 days of a written lease’s cessation.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Maine landlords who fail to return their tenant’s security deposits on time or who fail to provide the necessary itemized deduction list may forfeit their right to any of the deposit going forward. If this same landlord is found to have wrongfully withheld these security deposit funds, they may be forced to may twice their original value as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in Maine are allowed to make security deposit deductions for any of the following reasons, as well as any reason outlined in the applicable lease agreement:
- Offset unpaid rent
- Cover damages caused by a breach of the lease agreement
- Cover costs relating to damage that goes beyond regular wear and tear
- Offset unpaid utility bills
- Cover cost of storage of abandoned property
Lease Termination in Maine
Notice Requirements. When they are signed into a fixed end-date lease agreement, tenants in Maine are not required to provide any advance notice before ending a lease. However, Maine tenants who rent without a fixed end-date (whether as part of a lease or an informal renting agreement) must provide 30 days of advance notice when they intend to end their tenancy. This requirement applies to week-to-week, month-to-month, and yearly renters equally.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. If a Maine tenant feels the need to break of off their lease early, they are often able to do so by invoking an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, in cases where this kind of standardized option is unavailable, these following options remain available for when a Maine tenant wishes to legally end their lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Landlords are required to uphold the core livability requirements outlined in Maine’s warranty of habitability at all times. Failing to do so (which includes a failure to make necessary repairs upon request) may result in a tenant becoming “constructively evicted.” In that state, the affected tenant may push for an immediate lease termination due to a serious infraction on the landlord’s part.
- Landlord Harassment– Maine landlords are required to abide by any applicable standards for entering a tenant’s unit. This includes limiting their entrances to occasions where they have given “reasonable” advance notice (which the state has interpreted to mean “24 hours in advance.”) Failing to abide by these rules on a regular basis may allow a tenant to claim that they are being harassed, which in turn may allow them to turn around and push for a with-cause lease termination.
Some lease agreements require Maine tenants to continue paying for their former unit even if they are successfully able to terminate their lease. However, this obligation can usually be removed if a new tenant can be found to occupy the unit or take over the former lease. Maine landlords are required to take reasonable steps to make this alternative arrangement possible and to free their former tenant from their obligation to pay when the new tenant moves in.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Maine
Rent control & increases. Maine is one of a small number of states that neither preempts localized rent control, nor has any existing rent control policies on the books. As such, landlords are currently free to charge as much as they want for rent. However, in future, landlords operating in Maine could be obliged to limit their rent values based upon a localized rent stabilization provision.
In any case, Maine landlords are not free to raise rent prices without advance notice to all affected tenants. In fact, the state requires that landlords provide 45 days of advance notice in writing before a new rent increase is set to take effect.
Rent related fees. Maine’s landlord-tenant laws empower landlords to charge certain types of fees relating to the payment of rent. For example, Maine landlords are allowed to charge late rent payment fees after an applicable grace period comes to an end each month. At that point, a Maine landlord can only charge a late fee valued at less than 4% of the owed rent’s value. Also, a late fee can only be charged to a tenant if a provision for that fee was included in their written lease agreement.
Maine landlords are also allowed to charge returned check fees at their discretion. The specific value of these fees is not capped by the state but cannot exceed the combined cost of the amount due, associated court costs, applicable service costs, collection costs, and processing charges. Here again, this fee cannot be charged to tenants who did not agree to such a provision in their lease agreement.
Housing Discrimination in Maine
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Maine only provides one extra degree of protection for current and prospective tenants as they seek out housing in the state. Specifically, Maine prohibits discrimination in housing arrangements based on sexual orientation, in addition to those protections set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Maine Human Rights Commission is charged with executing and enforcing the state’s several civil rights laws, including those relating to the administration of fair housing practices. Though not all-encompassing, this Commission notes that the following business practices may be viewed as discriminatory if they are targeted at one or more protected classes:
- Inquiring, orally or in writing, about a protected class trait
- Failing to make reasonable accommodations
- Refusing to rent, sell, or lease housing
- Misrepresenting the availability of a housing unit
- Publishing advertisements that imply a preference for or against a certain type of tenant
- Providing unequal financing or brokerage services
- Engaging in blockbusting or steering
At this time, the Maine Human Rights Commission does not disclose the kinds of penalties imposed on landlords who are found guilty of discrimination against their tenants. However, the Commission still encourages tenants to file discrimination complaints at their own discretion. These complaints can then be used as a basis for a civil suit, through which the affected tenant may obtain damages.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Maine
There are still more important landlord-tenant laws that landlords and tenants in Maine should take note of. That’s because these following regulations are regularly the topic of dispute in an otherwise harmonious leasing relationship.
Landlord Entry. Maine only requires its landlords to provide “reasonable” notice before entering their tenant’s unit to perform repairs, show the space to prospective renters, or complete any other routine task. Because this standard is up for interpretation, the state has generally defined “reasonable” as represent 24 hours of advance notice. Landlords and tenants are free to define this right of entry further in the lease agreement, though, particularly when it comes to requiring more advance notice.
All lease agreements in Maine should define procedures for permission-less entry on the landlord’s part during an emergency. Even without this type of provision, it is assumed that a Maine landlord may follow this course of action if they feel an imminent emergency threatens a tenant’s health or safety.
Small Claims Court. Landlords and tenants in Maine are allowed to utilize the state’s small claims court system to settle grievances arising from differing interpretations of their lease agreement. However, cases heard in this venue may be valued at no more than $6,000. Moreover, this court system does not hear eviction cases (which are instead handled by the state’s district courts).
Mandatory Disclosures. Landlords in Maine are required to make a surprising number of information disclosures to their tenants. These are among the most important, particularly those relating to tenant health and safety:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Radon Presence and Testing. Maine landlords must disclose information relating to the testing and mitigation of radon in a prospective tenant’s building. To this end, landlords must disclose information regarding the radon levels in a given building, as well as the results of any recent testing for the same.
- Security Deposit Location. Maine landlords must disclose the banking institution in which a tenant’s security deposits are held. However, they are only obliged to do so upon a tenant’s request.
- Smoking Policy. Maine landlords must clearly disclose the smoking policy for a tenant’s building. This notice must explain where (if anywhere) smoking is allowed on the premises.
- Bed Bugs. Landlords in Maine must disclose to a new tenant if any units adjacent to their own have recently suffered a bed bug infestation. This disclosure should include a documented history of treatment or abatement methods used to address any previous infestations.
- Energy Efficiency. Upon request, a Maine landlord must disclose energy efficiency information to a prospective tenant. Specifically, they must disclose a 12-month energy consumption and cost record for the unit the tenant intends to rent.
Changing the Locks. Maine generally prohibits tenants from changing their own locks. However, this type of repair may be performed without permission so long as the tenant in question provides their landlord with a new spare key. The same provisions generally apply to landlords, who may change a tenant’s locks only with their permission. Failure to do so may result in a lockout, for which a Maine landlord may be held liable.
Maine Landlord-Tenant Resources
If you’re still looking for answers to your questions about Maine’s landlord-tenant laws, then these are the resources you’ve been looking for. Each can provide you with important insight into how this state’s housing laws operate in practice:
The Rights of Tenants in Maine – Though it is published by a non-state legal firm, this guide is among the most comprehensive for helping new Maine tenants understand their rights and obligations under the state’s laws. This digital resource is easy to page through as well, so readers can easily search for keyword and find the answers they are looking for.
Maine Housing Guide – This multi-purpose guide can help both landlords and tenants understand Maine’s statewide programs and provisions relating to housing. In particular, this guide has a lot of contact information for outside organizations that can help protect and support individuals in need of affordable housing.
Maine Model Lease – This example lease was created by Maine’s Attorney General to demonstrate what provisions can and should be added to a fully operable lease agreement. New landlords in Maine can use this document as a base for creating an equitable lease agreement that minimizes the risk of conflict with future tenants.