Under a number of circumstances, a Maine landlord can take steps to evict a troublesome tenant. The reasons to start a Maine eviction process include the following:
- Failure to pay rent
- Breach of a material provision in the lease
- Unlawful or criminal activity
- Significant damage to the rental unit
- Owner wishes to occupy unit
- Failure to vacate on termination of lease term
A landlord cannot evict a tenant without the appropriate notice and court action, which includes a court order called a Writ of Possession. A landlord who decides to force the tenant out by unlawful means can get into trouble. Things not allowed include changing the locks, intimidating the tenant, entering and removing the tenant’s personal belongings, or attempting to shut off the utilities. A landlord doing these things is liable to the tenant for any damages incurred or $250, whichever is greater, plus any court or legal fees.
In Maine, a utility company will check to see if a tenant is occupying a unit and will not shut off utilities despite a landlord’s request if the utilities are in the name of the tenant.
Maine Eviction Notice – Notice to Vacate
This 7-Day Notice is used if the tenant fails to pay rent or violates a major term in the lease. This includes causing substantial damage, changing the locks without permission and not supplying a duplicate key to the owner, or disturbing other tenants. It also includes committing a criminal offense.
The written notice must contain certain provisions, however, including the following:
- Reason for eviction such as failure to pay the rent.
- That the tenant may contest the eviction in court.
- That the tenant may reinstate the lease if all rent owed is paid along with any filing fees and service of process fees before the Writ of Possession is issued by a court.
If there is no lease agreement, this is a “tenancy at will” and the landlord need not give the tenant a reason to vacate but the written notice must still be given and can be either a 7-day or a 30-day notice. A notice can only be served for rent nonpayment once 7-days has passed since the due date.
A written 30-day notice to quit may be given for any reason except for a discriminatory purpose or for retaliation. It may only be served within 7 days of the original term or the tenant may remain for another 30-days ( if automatic renewal and lease is month-to month) and the reason for the eviction must be within the termination clause contained in the lease.
The notice still must contain the provisions indicated above including notice that the eviction may be contested in court.
When Notice is not Required
For written leases that do not automatically renew at the end of the lease term, a landlord is not required to give any notice but still must file a court action to evict the tenant. This rule also applies to employees who rent from their employers.
Service of Notice
A landlord must make 3 good-faith attempts to personally serve the tenant with the notice to quit. If the attempts are unsuccessful, the landlord may mail the notice and leave a notice at the unit.
Summons and Complaint
At the end of the 7 or 30 days and the tenant has not vacated the property or cured the violation, then the landlord must file and serve a summons and complaint to evict the tenant. A sheriff’s deputy will serve the documents. The court action is called a “Forcible Entry and Detainer,” though the landlord cannot enter the unit without a sheriff or police officer and only after a Writ of Possession is issued at the conclusion of the Maine eviction process.
The tenant must receive the documents at least 7 days before the noticed court hearing.
If the tenant fails to appear, the court will declare the tenant in Default and will issue a Writ of Possession, allowing the landlord to evict the tenant.
If all parties appear, the hearing is held before a judge only. The tenant may give a reason or reasons why he or she may not be evicted. If the landlord demonstrates that the rent has not been paid or that a material lease term has been breached, then a Writ of Possession will be issued.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The tenant can request mediation, a settlement procedure involving the landlord, to attempt to resolve any disputes. The tenant should advise the court clerk in advance of the hearing that a mediation is requested. The mediation takes place at the courthouse.
Maine Eviction Defenses
Improper notice includes arguing that the notice was less than 7 days, was not in writing, failed to contain a provision advising the tenant that he or she may contest the eviction in court or failed to give a reason for the eviction if there is a written lease agreement.
All rental units have an implied warranty of habitability, or that it is safe to occupy. Imagine if there are substantial problems with the property that has rendered it unsafe. If the landlord has failed to remedy it despite the tenant’s request, the court may be on the side of the tenant. The court can order that the tenant may vacate the unit without having to pay any owed rent. Further, the court may allow the tenant to remain at a lower rent until the landlord fixes the problem.
If the tenant shows that he or she was served with an eviction notice after having complained of city code violations, started or joined a tenant’s union or filed some other complaint against the landlord, the eviction may be halted. The tenant must still be current on rent and have not violated a material lease provision, however.
Unlawful Rent Increase
State law determines how much and when a landlord may increase the rent. A violation may enable the tenant to prevail if the tenant refuses to pay the increase.
A tenant may not be evicted based on a legally recognizable discriminatory purpose such as age, race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, children, marital status or if receiving welfare. For disabled tenants, the landlord must attempt a reasonable accommodation to help the tenant remain in the unit.
Writ of Possession
If the landlord prevails in the Maine eviction process, then the court will issue a Writ of Possession in 7 days. Once served, the tenant has only 48-hours to vacate the property. Should the tenant remain, a sheriff’s deputy or police officer may forcibly remove the tenants and store their belongings at the tenants’ expense.
An appeal of the court’s decision must be filed with the District Court before the Writ of Possession is issued or within 30-days of the judgment if the writ was not issued.
The tenant can request a jury trial if there is a material dispute about the facts. If there is a claim that the court misapplied the law, the appeals court will review the record of the hearing to see if legal errors were made by the judge.
A tenant who appeals must place any rent owed into an escrow account.