Are there new landlord tenant rules in Portland, Maine?
There are new landlord-tenant rules that went into effect in Portland at the beginning of December, 2020. The rules cover:
- Discrimination in housing;
- The length of notices for tenants-at-will; and
- Rent increases
These new rules are specific to the City of Portland, Maine. They do not apply anywhere else in the state of Maine.
Do the rules apply to me?
The rules do not apply to:
- Subsidized housing; and
- Units in buildings with 4 or less units where the landlord lives in the building.
How will the rules be enforced?
The rules set up a new Rent Board, which is meant to enforce the rules. But, for many tenants the rules will come up in court, like eviction court or if a landlord sues you for back rent. In court, the judge will decide whether the city rules apply in state court and what the rules mean. Because they are new rules, we don’t know how judges will decide these issues.
The city has posted FAQs about the new rental rules. But, tenants should know that a judge could decide that the rules mean something different than the city says.
We know this is confusing. If you have questions about the rules or have a court case, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance to talk about your specific situation.
What are the Portland, Maine rules about rent increases?
Under the new rules, your landlord can only raise your rent once a year in Portland. You must get a 75 day notice of any rent increase in Portland. A landlord cannot raise your rent in the middle of a lease.
The total rent increase can’t be over 10%. The landlord can’t raise your rent to whatever they want. They can only increase the rent for certain reasons:
- An annual increase set by the city based on inflation;
- An annual increase because tax rates have gone up;
- A 5% increase if there is a new tenant in the unit; and
- The above rent increases for past years that the landlord could have taken but did not.
What should I pay for rent now?
The city has said that all rent in eligible units goes back to what it was in June of 2020. If you and your landlord agree this is true, you should pay what you were paying in June of 2020. You should get your landlord to sign something in writing so you have proof that they agree.
If your landlord does not agree and will not reduce your rent, you can either agree to pay what your landlord wants you to pay or pay what your rent was in June 2020. If you pay what your rent was in June 2020, you could be brought to eviction court. You can raise the defense that the new Portland ordinance reduced your rent. But, a judge could find that the city rules do not apply in state court or that the rules do not say that your rent was reduced to what it was in June 2020. If a judge disagrees with you, you could be evicted.
We know that this is confusing. Because the rules are new, we do not know what judges will say they mean. If you have questions or have received a notice to quit, you should call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
What are the rules about notices to quit?
If you do not have a lease, you are a tenant-at-will. This means your landlord can give you a notice to quit without needing a reason to evict you. Under the new rules, the no cause notice quit must be 90 days in Portland. A landlord in Portland can give a 60 day notice if they also pay you $500. They can give you a 30 day notice if they also pay you $1,000 in Portland.
The city is saying these notice rules do not apply to you if you used to have a lease and have stayed in your unit month-to-month. We think there may be arguments based on the language in your lease that the rules apply in some cases even if you used to have a lease. If you have received a notice to quit, you should call Pine Tree Legal Assistance to talk about your specific situation.
What if my landlord is discriminating against me?
The Maine Human Rights Act and federal Fair Housing Act protect Maine tenants from discrimination. Read more about your Fair Housing rights.
The new Portland rules provider greater protection for people who have a housing voucher, like Section 8 or BRAP. The Portland rules don’t let a landlord refuse to rent to you because you have a voucher. You can’t file a Maine Human Rights Complaint because of the new city rules. But, you can file a complaint with the Portland Rent Board. If you are denied housing or your landlord is treating you differently because you have a voucher, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.