The following is a list of rights that are given to all tenants in Maine. Some of these rights can be changed or waived by your written agreement.
• “Habitability”: Your landlord must guarantee that your rental unit is reasonably safe and fit to live in. This means that it is not OK for your rental to have things like: undrinkable water; insufficient heat in winter; faulty electrical wiring; or leaking pipes. Be especially careful if your landlord says the apartment is rented “as is.” This sort of language could mean that the landlord is trying to avoid these responsibilities.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your written rental agreement can waive this right in exchange for a reduction in rent. Make sure you read your rental agreement carefully. If you agree to this waiver, it can be very hard to get your landlord to fix problems with the rental.
• Penalties for late payment: Your landlord can charge a fee for late rent payment if your rent is at least 15 days late. If your landlord is going to charge you this fee, then it must say so in the written agreement. The fee cannot be more than 4% of your monthly rental amount.
• Security deposits: Security deposits can be no more than the equivalent of two months rent and are often much less for subsidized housing. As a general rule, your landlord must return your security deposit, but there are exceptions to this rule. Your landlord may keep your whole deposit or a part of it to pay for any repairs, removal of abandoned property, or any unpaid rent or utilities. Your landlord cannot keep your deposit for normal “wear and tear” such as faded paint and worn carpets. Click here if you want more general information about security deposits and what they are.
If your landlord is going to keep some or all of your security deposit, your landlord must tell you. This notice must be in writing and give you the reasons. If your lease doesn’t say when the security deposit must be returned, your landlord has 30 days after your lease ends to return your security deposit or provide you with a written notice. If you don’t have a written agreement, your landlord has 21 days.
If your landlord is refusing to return your security deposit, you have some options. For more information about what your rights are with your landlord and your security deposit, and how to protect those rights click here.
• Metering and electric charges: Unless you agree in your written agreement, your landlord cannot make you pay for electricity used in someone else’s unit or in common areas. This includes areas such as: hallways, stairways, and basements. If you do agree to pay for this, the written agreement should state that you will do this in exchange for a reduction in rent.
• Landlord entering your rental unit: For all rental situations, your landlord can enter your rental unit to show, to inspect and to make necessary or agreed upon repairs. Your landlord must give you at least 24 hours notice, and can only enter at certain times. Your landlord must also have your permission to enter, but if you say no, you need to have a good reason. In cases of emergency, such as a fire, your landlord can enter at any time and is not required to provide notice. No written agreement can waive these rights.
• Legal fees: If your landlord takes you to court to enforce your agreement, you cannot be forced to pay your landlord’s legal fees.
• “Liens”: Your landlord cannot make you give a lien against your property for rent or other money you owe the landlord.
• “Fair or reasonable clauses”: No rental agreement can force you to acknowledge that any rules or provisions in the agreement are “fair and reasonable.”
REMEMBER: Only sign a lease or rental agreement you understand and agree to all the terms as they are written. If you have any questions about the terms in a rental agreement that you are considering signing, call the Legal Services for the Elderly Helpline at 1-800-750-5353. A Helpline attorney might be able to help you, or may be able to connect you with a reduced-fee private attorney.