This article talks about the rights of renters in Maine. Each state has different laws protecting renters - this article only covers the law in the state of Maine. If you live outside of Maine and are looking for help or information, try the LSC Legal Aid Finder (link is external) or search for rights of tenants or renters in your state.
What do I need to know?
First, read Rights of Maine Renters: Eviction. This explains what your landlord can and cannot do. It also tells you how the eviction process works and how long it takes. It explains some common defenses to eviction actions. After you have read this information, you may have more questions. This article may answer some of those questions. If you still need to know more, call Pine Tree Legal.
What should I do first?
Decide what you want to do. If you do not want to stay, but you need more time to move, call your landlord or the landlord’s attorney to see if you can settle the case. Your landlord must take several steps to legally evict you. These steps take a minimum of two weeks beyond the move-out date listed in the first notice. So, if you need more time, don't sell yourself short. If you are offering to save your landlord the expense of a court hearing by settling early, you should be able to get some extra time for that. Before you agree to a date, read more below under "What if I plan to move out but I need more time?"and "How much time do I have?"
If you want to fight the eviction, think about whether you can make a good case for not being evicted. Some common defenses are explained in Rights of Maine Renters: Eviction. Also, read more below under "If I want to fight the eviction, what do I do?"
I am being evicted for not paying rent. I want to stay where I am but I cannot afford to pay up. Is there anything I can do before being taken to eviction court?
Talk to your landlord about whether they will accept a payment arrangement to give you a chance to catch up on your rent. If your landlord agrees to a repayment plan make sure you put the agreement in writing. It is also helpful for you and your landlord to sign and date the agreement.
If the landlord will not agree to this, you may be able to get some help from one of these places:
Family Crisis Assistance Program (Emergency Assistance)
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) runs this program. It provides emergency help to low income households with children. You can get up to $250.00 for a housing emergency. You can apply this toward a security deposit or toward back rent if it will prevent the eviction.
This program will also assist with up to $150.00 to prevent utility shut-offs and will help with other crises.
You have a 30-day period to get all of the emergency help you need. After the 30 days, this program will not help you again for 12 months. Therefore, once you apply, ask for information on everything they can help with and apply for everything you need within those 30 days.
To apply: Contact your local Maine Department of Human Services Office. (Applications may also be available at your town office or utility company.)
This program is also run by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Like Emergency Assistance, it helps families with children. It provides the equivalent of 4 months of TANF benefits to resolve emergencies (such as an eviction) that may prevent you from getting or keeping a job.
To apply: Contact your local Maine Department of Human Services Office.
General Assistance is a welfare program run by every city or town. If your income is too low to meet your basic necessities, such as rent, and your income is less than the "assistance maximum," your local town can help you. In an emergency, your town or city should do whatever is necessary to assure you have basic necessities: shelter, food, heat, medicine, etc. However, the town may require you to show that your income for the last 30 days was spent on basic necessities in order to qualify.
If you are being evicted, the town should assist with the first month's rent or, in an emergency, back rent.
To apply: Contact your local town office.
If you do not know where to apply or have questions about how your town or city is handling your problem, you may call the Special Services Unit (sometimes called the “General Assistance Hotline”) at the Department of Health and Human Services, 1-800-442-6003.
Salvation Army, Red Cross, or Homeless Shelter
Your local Salvation Army, Red Cross or homeless shelter sometimes can help you with emergency housing.
For more information contact the Maine State Housing Authority: 1-800-452-4668.
What does a landlord have to do to evict me?
Rights of Maine Renters: Eviction explains, in detail, what landlords (in different types of rental situations) must do to legally evict. Here is a quick overview of those rules:
Your landlord must give you a written Eviction Notice, sometimes called a "Notice To Quit." If you do not have a lease, the Notice will tell you that you have either 7 days or 30 days to move out. If you have a lease then the lease will usually say what kind of notice the landlord has to give you. A verbal eviction notice is generally not legal. Keep your eviction notice.
The Eviction Notice is not the same thing as a court order. Your landlord cannot legally evict you until they get a court order allowing the eviction.
If you live in a rooming house, these rules may not apply to you. Learn more in Hotels, Motels, and Rooming Houses
If your landlord tries to evict you without getting a court judgment, call the police. Call Pine Tree Legal if the police won't help. Your landlord cannot legally change the locks, shut off your utilities, or try to keep you out of your home without going to court first.
At the end of the time period given in your Eviction Notice (usually 7 days or 30 days), your landlord can file court eviction papers. This kind of court case is called a “Forcible Entry and Detainer”. You landlord must have the Deputy Sheriff serve you with a Summons and Complaint.
The officer must make a good faith effort to deliver the papers in hand at least 3 times on 3 different days. If that doesn't work then the landlord may mail you the notice and leave a copy at your residence where you are likely to find it (such as posting on your door). Then the landlord must file an affidavit with the court swearing to the steps they have taken to notify you.
Call Pine Tree Legal right away if you get these court eviction papers and you want legal help.
Eviction by Court Judgment
The court papers will tell you the date and time of your eviction hearing. If you want to fight the eviction you must go to court. In court you may ask your landlord questions, bring your own witnesses and exhibits (photos, for example), and explain your side of the story.
Your landlord can go to court to try to evict you even if you think your landlord is wrong. You can be evicted even if it is winter or even if you are disable or you have children or you have nowhere to go. It is up to the court, not your landlord or Pine Tree Legal, to decide if you can be evicted.
If you go to court and lose, you have the right to appeal. If you lose and do not appeal, after seven days you will be served with a "Writ of Possession" by the Deputy Sheriff. This is the eviction order of the court. You then have 48 hours to move out.
What if I want to move and will be out before an eviction order will take effect?
If you know for sure that you will be moving before a "Writ of Possession" will be issued (see the steps above), then the legal eviction process may not affect you. You may want to tell the landlord of your plans to save them the trouble of going to court to get an eviction order.
Be sure of your plans to move before you decide to ignore the court eviction hearing. If you do not go to court the judge will generally issue a default judgment against you. It is too late to fight the eviction after a court judgment has been entered against you.
Again, you are not legally required to move until the following events have happened:
- First, the time period in the Eviction Notice must be over (usually 7 days or 30 days).
- Second, you must be served with court eviction papers at least one week before the hearing date. The Summons will tell you the date and time of the court hearing.
- Third, if you lose the hearing and do not appeal (or if you don’t go to the hearing), you will have 7 more days to move.
- Fourth, after those 7 days, if you are still there you can be served with a Writ of Possession by the shierff. You then have only 48 more hours to leave. After that time you are considered a trespasser on the property.
If you are planning to move but cannot do that before the landlord can get a "Writ of Possession" from the Court, talk to the landlord or the landlord’s attorney about agreeing to extra time to move. The landlord does not have to agree to this. Remember that you already have 7 days after the court hearing before a "Writ of Possession" can issue. So if you settle, you should get more than 7 days after the court date.
Once you have agreed to a date, make sure you go to court and then tell the judge what your agreement is. Usually in this kind of agreement the landlord can get the "writ" from the Court and have the sheriff’s department serve it on a specific date. The the landlord can ask the police to enforce the writ 48 hours later. It will be too late to change your mind after the judge has approved the agreement, so make sure you understand what you are agreeing to.
If you come to an agreement before the court date then you can use this Agreed Judgment form to protect your rights, and to let the judge know about your agreement. This is an interactive form; you can fill it out online, then print. Or print and then fill out by hand.
Fill out the form and file it with the Court, or bring it with you to your court hearing. Write the move out date you have agreed to on the last line of this form. It is not a good idea to have just an oral agreement with the landlord and skip the court hearing. You need to be in court to protect your rights and to make sure that the written agreement is given to the judge.
You have tried to work things out with your landlord but they are going forward with the eviction case. You are served with court papers for eviction--a summons and a ”Forcible Entry and Detainer Complaint". The Summons tells you the court date and time. You want to fight the eviction and stay in your rental.
Contact a private lawyer or Pine Tree Legal Assistance immediately.
Usually the notice of a court date gives you only a short time to prepare (as little as 7 days). If you can find a lawyer quickly enough, provide this information to your lawyer as soon as possible:
- your eviction notice (sometimes called "Notice to Quit")
- your lease or rental agreement (if you have one)
- rent receipts or other evidence of payment (if the issue is non-payment of rent)
- Summons and Complaint.
What if I can't find a lawyer to help me at the eviction hearing?
If you cannot find a lawyer to represent you at the eviction hearing Pine Tree Legal Assistance has written forms to help you fight your eviction.
Along with the "Agreed Judgment" form (see above), we have attached:
- A form letter to the court clerk
- Answer, Affirmative Defenses and Request for Electronic Sound Recording
If you can't view the forms or you're having trouble with them, read our instructions on using interactive forms.
Here's what to do with the forms:
Step One: Fill out the letter to the clerk.
- Fill in the date.
- Fill in the address of the court.
- Fill in the name of the case where it says "Re:" For example: Wright v. Miller.
- Sign your name, put in your address & phone number.
Step Two: Fill out the Answer, Affirmative Defenses & Request for Electronic Sound Recording.
- Fill in the names of the Plaintiff (landlord) and the Defendant (you). Fill it in just like on the Complaint that was served on you.
- Fill out the information in the top right hand corner of the form. Fill it out just like your landlord did in the papers served on you.
- On the Answer at question #3, check the correct box (chose one).
- On the Affirmative Defenses check only the one(s) that apply. We have included a list of some common defenses. Add any Defenses you have that are not listed. You can include any violations of the rules we have described here. See list below.
- Fill in the date, sign it, and put in your address and phone number.
Make two copies of both papers, one for yourself and one for the landlord.
Send copies of both papers to your landlord.
If the Summons on the lower left hand side lists the name of an attorney, send copies of everything to the attorney instead of the landlord.
Sign and date the Certificate of Service on the original Answer.
This shows the court that you have notified the landlord of your Answer.
Send the original letter and original Answer to the court clerk.
The clerk's name and address is on the Summons, which was served on you. You can mail it or bring the documents to the clerk’s window at the courthouse. Try to get this to the court at least one day in advance. (You may not be allowed to get a copy or transcript of the hearing recording, if you need it later for an appeal, unless your request for sound recording was made at least 24 hours before the hearing.)
What happens when I go to Court?
- You must show up at court on the date and time listed on the summons.
- Don't Be Late.
- Bring any witnesses, pictures, and letters with you. (You cannot say that you have a picture at home or a friend who would back up your version of events. The picture or the friend must be with you in court.) Bring extra copies of any documents you want to use. Once you give the documents to the court you can’t get them back. If you have pictures on a cell phone try to have them printed off so you can give them to the court.
- Refer again to the above section " What if I plan to move out but need more time?" After you get to Court, you can still talk to the landlord about settlement. If you reach an agreement, be sure to put it in writing and give it to the judge when he calls your case. (See attached Agreed Judgment form.) Here are some examples of agreements you could reach:
- You might agree that you can stay if payments on back rent are made by certain dates.
- You might agree to move by a certain date (giving you more time to move than the 7 days you will have anyway, if the court orders the eviction without an agreement).
- You will probably be sent to mediation before having a court hearing. This means that you meet with the landlord and a court mediator. The mediator works for the court system and does not take sides. The mediator's job is to talk to both sides to see if you can reach an agreement. You must mediate in "good faith," but you don't have to agree to anything that you believe is wrong or unfair. If you reach an agreement, the mediator will put it in writing and have you sign it. Then it is presented to the judge for approval as a court order. If you do not agree, your case will be set for a court hearing.
If the judge decides that either party has not mediated "in good faith," they can send you back to mediation, dismiss the case, order the eviction, award payment of attorneys' fees, or impose other penalties.
If you and the landlord do not settle the case, then the judge will hold a hearing. Ask for the hearing to be recorded. (You may not get this if you didn't put in your written request at least 24 hours ahead.)
All witnesses will be sworn in. The judge will ask the landlord to give their side of the story first. After the landlord presents their case, you will be given a chance to ask the landlord questions. You may want to ask follow-up questions to clarify his earlier statements, or to bring out information the landlord has not talked about. He may also present other witnesses. You may ask them questions, too, after they have finished telling their stories.
Remember, this is a time for you to ask questions of the landlord and the landlord’s witnesses. This is not the time when you testify, or tell your side of the story. You will have a chance to tell the judge your side of the story once the landlord is done presenting their case.
When it is your turn to testify, tell the judge your story as clearly and simply as you can. Think about the reasons you raised in your written answer about why you shouldn't be evicted.
Here are some common issues that might apply in your case:
- You did not receive the Notice to Quit.
- The Notice to Quit did not give you 7 days to cure the non-payment of rent.
- The Notice to Quit said you have 30 days (or 7 days) before the tenancy ends, but it really gave you less than 30 days (or 7 days) after you received it.
- The 30-day notice period runs out when your rent is still paid up.
- The landlord is trying to evict you only because you complained to a code enforcement officer, or to the landlord, of bad conditions in the apartment.
- The landlord is trying to evict you for other illegal "retaliatory" reasons.
- You did not pay rent because of serious conditions, which make the house unsafe or unhealthy to live in. You have told the landlord about these problems but he has not fixed them. (If you win on this point, the court can set a lower rent which you must pay until the needed repairs are done.)
- You have a disability and need a "reasonable accommodation" so that you can continue living where you are. For example, your landlord doesn't like your housekeeping; if you could get set up with housekeeping services from a social services agency, you could both be satisfied with the solution.
- The landlord's story that you are behind in rent, caused a nuisance, or broke the lease is not true. State the facts on these issues based on your own knowledge. If there are witnesses who can verify your version of the facts, you can bring them to court and ask them to testify about what they saw and heard.
- The 7-day notice you got for non-payment of rent does not contain these two sentences:
- "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 any of these defenses apply to your case, be sure to point them out to the judge. Read more about defenses to eviction.
What if I lose?
If you have a hearing and the Court orders the eviction, you will have at least seven days to move. In some cases, you may have good reasons to appeal the decision to Superior Court. (For more details on "writ of possession" and appeal, read these section of Rights of Maine Renters: Eviction.) Appealing the decision without an attorney can be difficult.
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