Maine law regarding landlords and tenants (14 M.R.S.A. §§6001-6016) is designed to protect both parties. For landlords, the law provides procedures by which renters can be evicted from a property for many different reasons. For tenants, the law places very strict requirements that landlords must meet to achieve an eviction, and allows for a number of defenses to an eviction.
The processes for both parties can differ depending on what kind of rental agreement the landlord and tenant have entered into.
Leases are typically either “written” or “at will.” A written lease is one that lists the rights and responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant, describes the rules that apply to the property, and defines a specific length of time the lease operates for. An “at will” tenancy exists without a written lease, either where the parties never sign a lease or where the tenant remains in the property after the written lease has come to an end.
Starting the Eviction Process
Depending on what type of lease is in place, and the reason for the eviction, the landlord must give certain notices to a tenant in order to evict them. Once the time stated in the notice has passed, and the tenant has not left or “cured” the reason for eviction, the landlord must file and serve a summons and complaint for termination on the tenant. This begins the “Forcible Entry and Detainer” court process, which includes a hearing.
The notice process and the complaint and summons process are very strict. Even the smallest deviation from the legal requirements will typically prevent eviction and require the landlord to begin the entire process from scratch.
At the hearing, both the landlord and the tenant can call witnesses and put on evidence. The landlord has the burden of proving the basis of the eviction. The tenant may prevent the eviction in one of three ways: challenging the sufficiency of the notice and/or the complaint and summons; disproving or curing the reason(s) for eviction, and/or; proving one or more of the available defenses.
A tenant can defend eviction through showing: breach of the warranty of habitability (the property is unsafe and the landlord has failed to fix the property despite being informed of the problem by the tenant); retaliation (the eviction was motivated in response to the tenant’s complaint about some problem with the property); or discrimination (the eviction is motivated by the tenant’s age, race, sex, disability, etc.).
If the landlord prevails in court, the court will issue a Writ of Possession seven days after the hearing. If the tenant does not vacate the property within 48 hours after receiving the writ, they become a trespasser and the landlord can ask law enforcement officers to remove them from the property.
Whether you’re a landlord faced with having to evict a tenant or need assistance with drafting a lease or a tenant that feels you are being wrongfully evicted, our experienced attorneys can help you deal with these complex issues.