Maine Rent Control Laws in 2024

Rent control has become an increasingly prominent issue in Maine as housing costs surge statewide. While Maine does not have any statewide rent control laws, a few cities have enacted local ordinances to limit how much landlords can raise rents each year.

The cities of Portland and South Portland currently have rent control ordinances in place. These laws were passed in response to rising housing costs that have made finding affordable rentals challenging for many residents. 

Portland's rent control ordinance was enacted in 2020 after a citizens' referendum. It limits rent increases on existing tenants to 100% of the Consumer Price Index rate, which has averaged 2-3% annually. South Portland followed shortly after with a similar ordinance.

Proponents argued these ordinances would help stabilize rents and prevent excessive increases. Landlords would still be able to raise rents modestly, but not by unlimited amounts. Opponents claimed rent control would discourage new housing construction and was an overreach of government power.

Rent control has emerged as a hot topic across Maine. With rents rising statewide, more communities are considering implementing local ordinances to provide tenant protections. However, no statewide rent control laws have been passed yet in Maine.

Key Provisions of Portland's Rent Control Law

In November 2020, Portland passed a rent control ordinance to limit how much landlords could raise rents each year. 

The ordinance limits rent increases on most rental units to 100% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate each year. For 2022, the maximum allowed increase is 3.8%.

There are exemptions to the rent cap for:

  • New construction built after April 2020
  • Rental units that previously received subsidies and are no longer restricted 
  • Owner-occupied buildings with 4 or fewer units
  • Rentals at hotels, inns, and boarding houses 

Landlords must register their rental units with the city and certify their compliance with the rent cap each year. Tenants can report violations of the ordinance to the city's Housing Safety Office.

If a landlord illegally raises the rent above the cap, the tenant can take legal action to recover excess rent paid. The city can also fine landlords from $50 to $500 per violation of the ordinance.

The purpose of the ordinance is to stabilize rising rents in Portland and prevent displacement of tenants who can't afford large rent increases each year. By limiting increases to 100% of CPI, typical rents will remain affordable relative to overall inflation.

Overview of Rent Control in South Portland

South Portland passed a rent control ordinance in 2021 to limit large rent increases in the city. The ordinance applies to most residential rental units in South Portland that were constructed prior to April 1, 1984.

The rent control ordinance caps annual rent increases at 100% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 5%, whichever is lower. For 2022, the maximum allowable increase is 5%. The limit applies to sitting tenants and between tenancies.

Some units are exempt from South Portland's rent control law, including owner-occupied buildings with no more than 5 units, units regulated by other government entities, and temporarily exempt units. Landlords can apply for an exemption if their costs exceed the cap through a petition process.

South Portland's rent control ordinance provides tenants stability and protects them against rapid rent hikes above the rate of inflation. The law gives renters recourse if their landlord increases rent beyond the cap without an exemption. Overall, the ordinance aims to maintain affordable rental rates in South Portland.

Maine's Statewide Rent Increase Notice Laws

Maine state law provides certain protections for tenants when it comes to rent increases by landlords. Unlike some other states, Maine does not have any statewide restrictions on how much a landlord can raise the rent. However, landlords must provide proper written notice before increasing rent on a rental unit.

Specifically, Maine law requires landlords to give tenants 45 days' written notice before raising the rent. This written notice must clearly state the new increased amount of rent and when it will take effect. 

Additionally, Maine law prohibits landlords from raising the rent more than once every 12 months. This means after a landlord increases the rent, they must wait a full 12 months before they can issue another rent increase on that rental unit. They cannot raise the rent multiple times within a single year.

The 12 month limit applies specifically to rent increases for sitting tenants who stay in place. It does not restrict landlords from raising the rent higher for new tenants moving into a vacated apartment. However, the new tenant would still have to be given the required 45 days written notice of the rent amount in their lease agreement.

In summary, Maine renters have protections when it comes to the frequency of rent increases, as landlords can only raise rents once every 12 months with proper advance written notice provided. However, Maine law does not limit the actual dollar amount that rents can be increased by statewide. Check locally to see if your city or town has additional rent control measures in place.

Just Cause Eviction Protections 

Maine law provides tenants with protections against evictions without proper cause. Landlords cannot terminate a tenancy or refuse to renew a lease without a valid, statutorily approved reason.

Some legal reasons a landlord can evict a tenant in Maine include:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Repeated late payment of rent 
  • Damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear
  • Lease violations such as having unauthorized occupants
  • Using the property for illegal activity
  • Refusing the landlord access for repairs and maintenance
  • Nuisance complaints from other tenants

Landlords must provide tenants with a written notice stating the reason for termination. Tenants have the opportunity to fix violations like late rent before the eviction process can proceed. 

If a landlord issues a notice to quit without adequate legal cause, tenants should seek legal assistance. Attempting to evict without proper justification violates Maine law. Retaliatory evictions in response to complaints or disputes are also prohibited.

Tenants facing eviction for valid reasons have the right to attend the court hearing and share their side. The court will weigh the evidence and make a determination if eviction is warranted based on state laws. Having legal representation can be very beneficial.

Understanding eviction rules helps renters protect their rights as tenants. Just cause eviction laws aim to prevent arbitrary, unfair, or retaliatory terminations of tenancies in Maine. Having a written lease agreement and maintaining communications with the landlord is key.

Maine Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution

When issues arise between landlords and tenants in Maine, there are options available to help resolve disputes outside of court.  

Many cities and towns in Maine have rent boards that hear complaints and help mediate disagreements over issues like maintenance, repairs, rent increases, and evictions. Rent boards provide a faster and less costly way to address rental housing disputes compared to going directly to court.

For example, Portland's Housing Safety Office administers the city's rent control ordinance and acts as an impartial rent board. Landlords and tenants can bring issues to the board and have a hearing before staff who aim to broker a reasonable agreement. The board has the power to order rent reductions, oversee needed repairs, and impose penalties on landlords violating the ordinance.

South Portland also has a Rent Board that hears rental housing disputes for residents. They have the authority to determine the reasonableness of rent increases and ensure compliance with the city's rent control policies.  

Beyond city and town rent boards, landlords and tenants in Maine can also utilize mediation services. Mediation involves sitting down together with an impartial third party mediator to communicate perspectives, identify solutions, and draft a binding agreement to resolve the issue. Mediation is completely voluntary but often successfully resolves disputes without having to go to court.

Maine law requires landlords to inform tenants about available mediation services when sending notices regarding grounds for eviction. Many non-profit mediation centers in Maine offer landlord-tenant mediation programs with sliding scale fees based on income. This confidential process can address disputes over security deposits, repairs and maintenance, lease terms, evictions, and more.

Rent boards and mediation services give Maine landlords and tenants options to hash out disagreements, understand each other's positions, and reach equitable compromises. Taking advantage of these dispute resolution avenues can save time, money, and stress for all parties involved in a rental housing conflict.

Maine Tenant Union Overview

Tenant unions and renters rights organizations play an important role in advocating for tenants and fair housing practices in Maine. Here are some of the major tenant unions active in the state:

Maine People's Alliance (MPA)

A grassroots advocacy group with over 35,000 members statewide. MPA has campaigned extensively for rent control measures and sponsors the Southern Maine Tenants Union.

Southern Maine Tenants Union

Focuses on the Portland area, they assist tenants in disputes with landlords, organize rent strikes, and advocate for pro-tenant policies. Recently pushed for Portland's rent control ordinance.

Bangor Tenants Union

Represents renters in the Bangor area and across Northern Maine. Educates tenants on their rights, monitors unsafe housing conditions, and advocates for rent stabilization policies. 

Maine Mobile Home Owners Association

Provides support and legal assistance for manufactured home residents dealing with lot rent increases or eviction threats. Lobbies state legislature on bills impacting mobile home owners.

United Tenants of Lewiston

Organizes Lewiston area tenants to fight unjust evictions and rent hikes. Also hosts know your rights trainings, promotes voter registration, and advocates for rent control.

Waterville Tenants Association

Focuses on tenant outreach and education in Waterville. Has assisted residents dealing with unresponsive landlords and unsafe living conditions.

Overall these groups strive to educate Maine tenants on their rights, provide support in housing disputes, and push for policy changes like statewide rent stabilization and expanded rent control. They empower tenants to organize and collectively advocate for fair treatment.

Maine Habitability and Repair Laws

Maine law requires landlords to maintain rental units in livable and habitable condition. This means providing a premises that is structurally sound, with hot running water, heating, electricity, and appliances in good working order. Landlords are responsible for making any repairs needed to keep the unit in livable condition.

If a rental unit has conditions that materially affect the health and safety of tenants, this is considered a breach of the implied warranty of habitability. Common examples include insect/rodent infestations, mold issues, lack of heat or hot water, or faulty electrical wiring. 

Under Maine law, tenants have the right to withhold rent if a landlord fails to make necessary repairs within a reasonable time frame after being notified. Withholding rent forces the landlord to take action to address the unlivable conditions. Tenants should retain proof of the unlivable conditions through dated photos/videos and repair requests made to the landlord.

To legally withhold rent in Maine, tenants must:

  • Notify landlord in writing of the needed repairs 
  • Allow reasonable timeframe for landlord to make repairs (30 days recommended) 
  • Specify in writing they will withhold rent until repairs are made
  • Put the amount of withheld rent in escrow account

Withholding rent cannot be done if the tenant caused the damage themselves. Tenants are still responsible for any unpaid back rent after repairs are made. Consult a local tenant union or attorney before deciding to withhold rent.

Tenants also have the right to file a rent escrow case in court if the landlord fails to make timely repairs. The court can order the landlord to make repairs and deduct repair costs from the rent. Tenants in Maine should understand these important habitability and repair provisions to assert their rights.

Security Deposits in Maine

In Maine, landlords are permitted to collect a security deposit from tenants when renting a residential property. However, there are laws that regulate the maximum amounts that can be charged as well as procedures for returning deposits.

Maximum Security Deposit Amounts 

Maine law caps the maximum security deposit that a landlord can collect:

  •  For an unfurnished unit, landlords can charge up to the equivalent of two months' rent as a security deposit. 
  • For a furnished unit, landlords can collect up to the equivalent of three months' rent as a security deposit.

These limits apply statewide, regardless of whether the rental unit is in a rent control municipality. Landlords cannot require tenants to pay additional fees on top of the security deposit.

Interest Owed on Security Deposits

In Maine, landlords are required to place security deposits in a separate escrow account. Any interest that accrues on the deposits belongs to the tenants. 

Within 30 days of a tenant moving out, landlords must provide an itemized list of damages and refund the balance of the deposit plus interest to the tenant. Interest is calculated based on the average passbook savings account rate published by the Banking Superintendent.

Return of Security Deposit 

When a tenancy ends, landlords have 30 days to return the security deposit plus accrued interest to the tenant. They can deduct amounts for unpaid rent or damages, but must provide an itemized list of all deductions.

If a landlord fails to return the balance of the deposit within 30 days, they forfeit their right to withhold any amount. At that point, the tenant can sue to recover up to twice the amount of the original security deposit.

Tenants should thoroughly document the condition of the unit at move-in and move-out to ensure they receive their full security deposit back. Taking pictures and having a witness present for inspection is recommended.

Looking Ahead for Rent Control in Maine

Rent control has proven to be an effective policy for stabilizing rents and protecting tenants in Portland and South Portland. As a result, there is growing interest across Maine in enacting additional rent stabilization measures.

At the state level, several proposals have been introduced to allow cities and towns to adopt rent stabilization ordinances. The bills would repeal the state preemption that currently prohibits municipalities from enacting rent regulations beyond what is already allowed. Passage of a state law permitting rent control would clear the way for more cities to follow Portland and South Portland's lead.

Beyond the statehouse, campaigns are underway in cities like Bangor, Lewiston, and Augusta to establish local rent boards and stabilization policies. Tenant advocacy groups have launched petition drives and begun lobbying city councils. With housing costs rising statewide, activists are hopeful they can replicate the rent control successes of Southern Maine in communities across the state.

Over the next few years, Maine renters should expect to see an expansion of rent stabilization measures. But the real estate lobby will continue opposing these efforts. Ultimately, the ability to enact stronger renter protections will depend on electing supportive state and local leaders. For now, Portland and South Portland provide models for regulating rents that the rest of Maine may soon follow. With both the statewide and local efforts underway, the fight for rent control is poised to heat up.

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