The agreement you make with your landlord affects what rights you will have. You may sign a written agreement called a lease. A lease lists the names of the landlord and tenant, the address of the apartment, the length of the lease, and the day the rent is due. Most leases contain much more than this. Read these "extra conditions" carefully and understand them before you sign.
If you sign a lease, be aware that it sets out the rules you and your landlord agree to follow. For example, it will probably say whether the landlord can evict you before the lease ends, what reasons he must have, and what kind of notice he must give you. If the landlord is trying to evict you, a judge will look at what your lease says to decide the case. If something in a lease is grossly unfair to you, a judge may say that it can't be used against you. But usually your rights depend on what the lease says.
Note: If you have a written agreement that does not have a "lease term" (a specific amount of time you will be renting), then you have a "rental agreement," not a lease. Our advice to you is the same. Read the agreement and understand it before you sign!
Either the landlord or the tenant can choose to end the lease if the other party has "materially breached" the lease. This requires a written 7-day notice, served in-hand, or, after 3 good faith efforts, mailed by first class mail, with a copy left at the other party's home. Read more about landlord's duty to seek a court order before evicting a tenant.
The Maine Attorney General's office posts a "model lease" form that landlords and tenants can use for reference.
Tenancies at Will
When you rent without a lease, you become a "tenant at will." Maine law gives you certain rights we will tell you about here. For example, to evict you, your landlord must give you time after a written notice and must get a court order if you are still not out. Read more about this in Rights of Maine Renters: Eviction.
Hotels, Motels, Inns, and Rooming Houses
Generally, if you are staying in a hotel or motel, you are not a tenant and do not have the rights of a tenant. A motel owner can evict you on short notice and without going to court.
If you live in a rooming house, are you a tenant? This is a gray area of the law. The owner may say that you are not a tenant because she has an "innkeeper's license" or runs a "lodging house." But there is more to it. If the owner acts like a motel owner by:
- providing clean sheets and towels
- cleaning your room
- signing guests in and out in a registry
- renting rooms by the day, rather than by the month
then you are probably not a tenant. But if the owner does not do these things, then he is probably a landlord, and you do have the rights of a tenant.
Read more about your rights while living in a hotel, motel or rooming house.
If you live in an inn or rooming house and you are not sure about your rights, call Pine Tree Legal.
Partially revised June 2011