Agreements can be Oral or Written
Maine Residential Lease Agreements come in two different types when they are for the leasing of premises to be used as residences. If written, it is a Maine residential lease agreement. The other type refers to oral agreements, which are also called rental agreements or a tenancy-at-will. Although Maine landlords generally have the same responsibilities toward their tenants regardless of the type of lease arrangement, there are some differences regarding notices to terminate the tenancy, return of your security deposit and other matters.
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In any landlord/tenant arrangement, informing your tenants of their responsibilities, keeping them fully informed about anything pertaining to the premises including required disclosures, and working with them to keep the premises in good condition will help ensure you have reliable tenants and minimize any circumstances leading to disputes.
Landlord Obligations in Maine
All landlords are under an implied warranty to provide a residence that is fit for habitability, which includes providing basis essentials such as heat, air, ventilation, electricity, running and hot water, plumbing and sanitary systems in good condition. If a major appliance, service or condition requires repair, the landlord should take care of it as soon as practicable.
As a landlord, you may not refuse to rent to anyone based on race, color, gender, religion, national ancestry, family status, sexual orientation or disability. There are some exceptions that exempt religious organizations and other special or designated housing. You may refuse to rent to anyone with no references, poor credit, insufficient income or a criminal record.
If you own a dwelling with no more than 5 leased units and you reside in one of them, the laws pertaining to security deposits and other matters do not apply to you.
Other obligations include:
- Comply with all housing and building codes regarding tenant safety and health
- Provide essential services
- Make repairs necessary to ensure the residence remains fit for human habitation
- Maintain a minimum 68 degrees Fahrenheit within 3 feet of exterior walls and 5 feet above floor level at an outside temperature of minus 20 degrees or protect building systems and equipment from freezing and impeding the heating facilities
- Maintain common areas free of trash and in a safe condition
- Provide functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Make specific disclosures regarding lead paint, radon, bed bugs and smoking
You can negotiate and contract with your tenant to accept certain conditions that would otherwise violate the implied warranty of fitness for human habitation provided you agree to a reduction in the rent or provide other stated consideration.
Tenants have certain obligations under the lease:
- Return the premises in the substantially the same condition as when the tenancy began
- To not damage or alter or remove any part of the premises
- To not engage in criminal activities within the premises
- To not disturb the rights of other tenants to the quiet enjoyment of their units
- Keep the premises safe and clean
- Allow entry by landlord upon 24-hours’ notice at reasonable times
- Change the batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Common Maine Rental Lease Agreement Provisions
A Maine residential lease agreement requires a number of provisions and disclosures. You do have the option of including a number of other terms:
- Name of property owner and property manager; address where rent is to be paid; emergency or maintenance contact information; address and name of person to whom legal documents and notices are to be served
- Names of all the tenants and any other occupants—have all adult tenants sign the lease so that they are jointly and severally liable for the lease terms, including the rent
- Address of the premises
- Beginning and end dates
- Amount of rent and date it is due—state grace period of 15 days or late fees of no more than 4% of the rent may be imposed and a notice to quit
- Insufficient check fees—give 10-days’ notice to pay or collect amount due plus any court costs, service and collection costs and processing fees
- Security deposit—applies to tenancies in dwellings containing more than 5 units:
- no more than 2-month’s rent
- funds to be kept in a separate account or single account containing the deposits of other tenants
- if paid in cash, must give tenant a receipt
- option of tenant securing a surety bond in lieu of a security deposit
- if requested, advise tenant of location of funds and account number
- no interest required to be paid
- state that that the funds are to be used for damages that exceed normal wear and tear, or for any outstanding rent due upon surrender of possession and for unpaid utility charges, or for the cost of storage and disposing of personal belongings left behind
- that funds will be returned no later than 30-days of tenant vacating unit and sent to a forwarding address that is supplied by the tenant within this time or within the 30-day period submit a written, itemized statement with specific reasons for withholding deposit and including receipts and estimate of the costs of repair
- recommend that you set a time and date for a mutual inspection a short time after the tenant vacates with check-out list on hand
- Landlord’s obligations as noted above—may provide house or conduct rules that apply to all tenants and are for the convenience, safety and welfare of all tenants, provides for the fair distribution of services and facilities to all and preserves the landlord’s property from damage
- Tenant’s obligations as noted above—you may require the tenant to perform specific minor repairs or maintenance if it does not diminish the obligations of the landlord to provide a residence fit for habitability unless you and the tenant agree to certain stated conditions that would ordinarily violate your duty to provide a dwelling fit for human habitation and you agree to a reduction in the rent or by providing for some other consideration
- Party responsible for certain utilities
- Major appliances being provided
- No commercial, business or illegal use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- If smoking is permitted in the premises or what limited areas are available for smoking if so permitted
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas; may charge a deposit except for service dogs
- Subletting clause—whether you allow it and if you have to consent to whomever is the sublessee
- Your right of entry to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers—reasonable notice and entry at reasonable hours; indicate that you may enter immediately if it is an emergency
- Notify landlord if absence from unit is to be 7 days or longer
- 7 -day notice to quit required for nonpayment of rent and for other material violations including:
- substantial damage to the premises caused by tenant or persons under tenant’s control that has not been repaired
- permitting a nuisance on the premises
- refusing to allow entry to landlord after having been given notice
- caused the dwelling to be unfit for human habitation
- tenant is a perpetrator of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking
- committed a violation of the law regarding the tenancy
- engaged in criminal activity
Any notice to quit must contain the following language:
“If you pay the amount of rent due as of the date of this notice before this notice expires, then this notice as it applies to rent arrearage is void.”
“After this notice expires, if you pay all rental arrears, all rent due as of the date of payment and any filing fees and service of process fees actually paid by the landlord before the writ of possession issues at the completion of the eviction process, then your tenancy will be reinstated.”
If you have a tenancy-at-will, then a 30-day notice to quit is to be served but it is 7-days if you have a specific reasons that is a material breach of your agreement. It must also contain the mandatory language noted above.
- Notice for increasing rent—45-days in advance of the effective date of the increase in a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose)
- Provide disclosure of the presence of lead-based paint on the property for all rental property built before 1978—provide the tenant with an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
- Provide results of the latest radon test to the tenant before the tenant signs the lease or pays a deposit; obligation to mitigate if results are 4pCI/l or higher
- If requested, advise tenant of last time unit was inspected for bed bugs; you may inquire of any tenants if they have any experience with bed bugs
- Residential energy efficiency disclosure—right of tenant to 12-month history of energy consumption and cost from energy supplier
Prohibited Lease Terms
There are certain terms and provisions that you may not include in your rental lease agreement:
- waiver of liability or limits to landlord’s liability
- allowing you to have a lien on the tenant’s property for rent or any other payments due and owing
- allowing entry by landlord without notice
- that tenant must pay your attorney’s fees and costs for any action to enforce the rental agreement
- requiring more than two months’ rent for security deposit
- allowing eviction without a court order
- that the terms and provisions in the lease are fair and reasonable
If you own more than 5 dwellings or do not reside in one where you own 5 or fewer, then the security deposit laws apply to you. A deposit may not be more than 2 months’ rent and is not to be commingled to be in a separate account from you own. If requested, you are to inform the tenant where the funds are kept and the account number. You may give the tenant the option to obtain a surety bond instead of giving you a deposit.
Although not required, you should consider conducing a mutual inspection of the unit with a check-in list of the furnishings and appliances provided and the condition of the unit. This can be used when the tenant vacates the unit and you can again inspect the premises for damages.
For residential lease agreements, you have up to 30-days to return the deposit or submit an itemized statement of the damages and repair costs. For tenancies-at-will, you have 21-days. Your failure to abide by these deadlines can leave you liable for twice the amount of the deposit including attorney’s fees and costs.
Termination of the Lease
You may not terminate a fixed term lease unless the tenant has not paid the rent or has violated any of the lease provisions you specifically indicated could lead to termination. You may, however, institute eviction proceedings if the tenant remains in possession for at least 7-days without your consent without first giving a notice to quit.
To terminate a tenancy-at-will or a monthly lease without cause, both parties have to give 30-days’ notice.
For nonpayment of rent, you have to give a 7-day notice for a written rental agreement to include the amount of the arrearages and the tenant’s right to contest the termination. This includes other material breaches of the lease. For tenancies-at-will or if your lease does not include a termination provision for specific lease violations, you can give a 30-day notice to quit along with advising the tenants of their right to contest the termination in court or a 7-day notice for cause such as for nonpayment of the rent or for any other specific reason for termination as stated in the lease. Both notices may be sent at the same time. A tenant who pays the full rent within 7-days may remain in possession.
Any notice to quit must contain certain language that is indicated in the section on “Lease Provisions.”
Tenants may also give a 7-days’ notice to terminate if the landlord violated a material breach of the lease that renders the unit or dwelling unfit for human habitation.
Servicemembers’ Exception Applicable
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, a tenant who is a member of the American Armed Forces including any of the uniformed services may terminate a fixed term lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days or must live in a barracks or other residence supplied by the government. The tenant must provide a copy of the orders or at least a written statement from the commanding officer. The tenant must give 30-days’ and has no further obligations under the lease so long as the rent owed for the final rental term is paid.
Domestic Violence Exception
You may not evict a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. A tenant must provide written verification of a domestic assault or a copy of a protective order. For rental agreements of less than one year, the tenant may give you 7-days’ notice to terminate the lease early. For leases of one year or more, the tenant must give 30-days’ notice to vacate. You may evict the perpetrator of domestic violence who is a tenant even if that tenant shares the unit with the victim so long as the victim is not the subject of the eviction.
It is a rebuttable presumption that you retaliated against a tenant by terminating the lease within 6 months of the tenant having complained about the dwelling or for having filed a fair housing complaint, for having requested that repairs be made or for having participated in a tenants’ union.
Repair and Deduct Rent
For repairs that materially affect the habitability of the dwelling such as the lack of heat, faulty wiring or unsafe drinking water, the tenant can repair the condition and deduct the cost from the rent if it is less than $500 or one-half the rent, whichever is greater. The tenant must first give you a 14-day written request to do the repairs. If the tenant does have someone perform the repairs, it must be done by a certified or licensed professional. If the repairs are done by the tenants, they can only charge for materials and parts.
Maine has a series of complicated laws regarding tenants and landlords and what is required of each party. Consult an experienced Maine landlord/tenant attorney if you have any questions about your Maine residential lease agreement.