A "for rent" sign hangs in front of a green house
A for rent sign stands outside a building in Portland on Friday, May 6, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN is exploring Maine’s housing crisis from every possible angle, from how it affects home prices, to what it means for Mainers across the state. Read our ongoing coverage here and fill out this form to tell us what you want to know.

While Maine is a large rural state that has historically held the highest homeowner rate in the region, hundreds of thousands of homes continue to be occupied by renters, especially in the state’s largest cities.

In Portland, 55 percent of units are renter-occupied, the highest number in the state. Waterville follows at 54 percent, and Orono, Biddeford, Bangor and Lewiston each have 52 percent renter-occupancy rates. Many also rent in more rural communities. In Farmington, the rate is 45 percent, in Presque Isle it is 39 percent and in Skowhegan, 36 percent.

In a severe housing crisis, many Mainers do not have an ample supply of units to pick from and could find themselves in a difficult situation. We got many questions on renter rights in reader questionnaires in recent reader surveys. Here is a guide to them in Maine.

When can landlords evict you?

Landlords don’t need much of a reason to evict you, but they cannot do so before the end of a written lease unless the tenant has broken a significant condition of the lease. The lease itself needs to state that violation of that rule could lead to termination.

If you are a tenant at will and do not have a lease, a landlord doesn’t need a reason to evict you and just needs to provide a 30-day notice. Seven-day notices are allowed if the tenant is a week or more behind in rent or did something illegal in the unit, among other reasons.

There are other protections for renters under state and federal law. Landlords also can’t evict you due to race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin.

You cannot be evicted for organizing a tenants union, a law that recently came up as former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling challenged an eviction notice from the landlord of his downtown Portland apartment. A Maine District Court ruled that Strimling’s landlord had not done that, but he is currently appealing that decision.

Do I have to let my landlord into my apartment?

A landlord can enter a renter’s property only with reasonable notice — generally around 24 hours — except in the case of an emergency.

How much can my landlord raise my rent?

A landlord cannot change the rent set out in the original lease if the lease is in effect. If there is no lease, they only need to provide a 45-day notice of the increase.

There are different rules in Portland, where voters passed a rent control ordinance in 2020. The new requirements apply to most rental properties with exceptions for certain ones, including smaller landlord-occupied buildings. It largely limits annual rent hikes to the rate of inflation and to account for property tax increases.

Do landlords have an obligation for an apartment to be safe?

Yes: Under Maine law the unit needs to be “fit for human habitation.” 

If it is a serious problem, such as a faulty toilet or a ceiling leak, and the problem was not the result of actions by you or your family, the landlord is required to fix it. If the landlord does not address the problem after a reasonable amount of time, you can take them to court.

However, protections are less strong for apartment buildings where there are five or fewer units, including landlord-occupied ones.

Does a landlord need to tell me the risk of bedbugs in my apartment?

Under a 2010 state law, landlords need to tell renters if there is a bedbug infestation in the unit the potential renter is looking to live in or in other nearby units of the apartment. They also need to disclose when the last inspection for bedbugs was done if they are asked.

On the flipside, tenants need to tell landlords as soon as possible if they believe there is a bedbug infestation. In the event of a bedbug infestation, the landlord has to contact a pest control agent within 10 days.

What groups are protected from housing discrimination?

Maine landlords cannot discriminate in leasing an apartment based on race, sexual orientation, handicap, religion, national origin or for taking public assistance.

They also cannot prevent you from having a service dog for sight or hearing, unless the building consists of two units, with one occupied by the owner. Such a living situation is one of the few times they can impose limits on who rents. Other cases include rentals in retirement communities and non-commercial religious housing.

Can my landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?

It is illegal for a landlord to not rent to someone with children, and it is illegal for them to ask a potential renter if they have children.

What are the rules around the security deposit?

Landlords can require a security deposit from the renter before they move in and deduct from it to cover damage to the apartment at the end of the tenancy. There are limits to what this can cover. It cannot cover routine cleaning or painting, only damages the tenant is responsible for.

The landlord needs to return the security deposit within 30 days of the tenant’s leaving if there is a written lease and 21 days if there is not. Security deposits cannot exceed two months of rent.