The official term for an eviction lawsuit in Maine is a Forcible Entry and Detainer action. The eviction process can differ from county to county, but they more or less are the same:
This article details a summary for a landlord to refer to when evicting a tenant. Alternatively, a landlord can ask an attorney for legal advice if they have any questions on landlord-tenant rights.
An eviction notice is usually a form that is filled out by the landlord that details their violation and whether or not a tenant can fix the issue. The notice period depends on the reason for eviction. The landlord must give the proper form so that they have a bigger chance of winning the case.
The notice must contain relevant information, such as the reason for eviction and how long a tenant has to vacate the property or resolve the violation. Notice periods can vary from 7-day to as long as 30 days' notice.
1. Failure to pay rent or nonpayment of rent
The most common reason for eviction is failure to make timely payment of rent. A landlord may evict a tenant for not paying rent due.
Rent is considered late in Maine 15 days past its due. However, a grace period that gives more time to pay rent may be available if indicated in the lease/rental agreement.
Before a landlord can start with the eviction process for not paying rent, the landlord must provide the tenant a written eviction notice called a 7-Days Notice to Pay. This notice informs the renters that they have 7 days to pay the rent OR they must move out of the property to avoid eviction.
If tenants manage to pay rent in full to the landlord before the 7 days are up, the entire eviction process stops, and they can continue staying within the rental premises. This only applies to TENANTS AT WILL.
For tenants who have a written lease, the landlord has to refer to the written rental agreement in order to give the tenant the appropriate written notice. If the lease does not indicate a notice period, then the landlord must continue with the 7-Day Notice to Pay instead.
2. Violation of the written lease/rental agreement
A lease agreement can vary between tenants. Landlords and tenants are required to uphold the terms of the lease agreement at all times and avoid committing lease violations.
In Maine, the landlord can evict the tenant for violating lease terms. The landlord must provide a written notice called a 7-Day Notice to Quit, which gives the tenant seven days to move out of the rental unit.
However, if there is a stipulation in the lease terms that dictates another kind of notice period, then the landlord has to follow what the lease term says and give the appropriate notice to the tenant.
Lease violations include:
- Damage to the rental unit
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Too many people are living inside the rental unit
- Housing a pet in a pet-free rental unit or rental premises, etc.
The landlord may continue to file a court action if the tenant remains inside the rental unit after the given notice period.
3. Material health or safety violation
Maine law takes into account the health, building, safety, and housing codes. If a tenant violates any of these codes, the landlord must issue a 7-Day Notice to Quit. The notice must clearly state which code the tenant violated.
Violations under this could include:
- Not throwing out trash for long periods, inviting bugs and/or rodents.
- Damaging the electrical wiring of a unit
- Ruining the plumbing fixtures of a unit
The tenant has to vacate the property by the end of the 7 days. If they are unable to do so, the landlord may continue filing for the eviction process.
4. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant has engaged in illegal activity on the rental premises, the landlord has to give the tenants 7 days' notice before starting the eviction process. However, if lease terms dictate another notice period, the landlord follows that instead.
Examples of illegal activity include, but are not limited to:
- Violence, assault, battery
- Domestic violence, sexual assault
- Any kind of activity that threatens the lives of others within the rental property
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
5. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A Maine eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without good cause. The landlord must either wait for the tenant to commit a violation or wait for their rental term to end.
However, tenants can be evicted if they stay in the property even a day after their lease term ends.
This type of eviction notice usually only applies if the landlord wants to end the tenant's lease. The required notice time given to a tenant depends on their type of tenancy.
Should the tenant remain in the rental premises even after their notice period ends, the landlord may proceed with the eviction to evict the tenant from the property. A sample of the 30-Day Notice to Quit is provided.
Filing a Complaint
Should the landlord decide to proceed with the eviction after giving proper notice to the tenant, they must start filing for an eviction lawsuit, also known as a Forcible Entry and Detainer action, and go to court. Successful evictions rely on correct filings, so the landlord must file all the forms correctly.
1. Steps in filing
- Step 1: Proceed to the district court the rental property belongs to
- Step 2: Fill out the forms
- Step 3: Pay the filing fees
It takes between 7 days to 30 days before a landlord can file a complaint. This varies depending on the reason for eviction.
Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant. The landlord must not serve this document themselves. The document should contain information such as the date and time of the court trial.
The Summons is a court order that informs tenants they have to attend the eviction hearing.
Maine allows anyone authorized by the court to serve the document (sheriff, deputy sheriff, etc.). It must be served on the tenant at least 7 days before the eviction hearing is scheduled.
1. How to serve documents to a tenant
The documents have to be served to the tenant through one of the following methods:
- Personal Service: It is served to the tenant in person.
- Substituted Service: A copy of the Summons and its corresponding documents may be left at the tenant's place of residence or rental unit with someone who lives with them.
- Mailing & Posting Service: The server leaves a copy of the document placed in a secure and visible position by the tenant's rented property entrance. And also mails the documents via first class mail and requests a return receipt. This service method is a last resort.
2. After serving the Summons
The tenant must file an answer if they want the eviction hearing to be recorded. Otherwise, they are not required to do so. In Maine, recordings are helpful in case the tenant wants to file an appeal.
The Summons and Complaint must be served at least seven days before an eviction hearing is scheduled.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
During the court hearing, the landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against their tenant in order to win. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing, the landlord may receive a default judgment.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and filed an answer
In a Maine eviction, the tenant is not required to file an answer, but they may do so if they wish. During eviction proceedings, the landlord must support their Forcible Entry and Detainer action with evidence and show it to the judge. This includes but is not limited by the following:
- Copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts
- Rent ledgers
- Bank statements
- Witness statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations committed by the tenant
A court hearing for the eviction process is scheduled within 10 days after the return date found on the Summons.
An eviction hearing is scheduled within 10 days after the return date of the Summons.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Possession
Once the landlord wins the case and, provided the tenant does not file for an appeal or reconsideration, the court will issue a Writ of Possession seven days after the landlord wins the court case.
The Writ of Possession is a court order/eviction order which informs the tenant that they must move out of their housing on the property within 48 hours after the Writ of Possession is delivered to them in person. If the tenant fails to do so, they will be forcibly evicted.
2. Move out process
This final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of their housing on the property. Tenants have a maximum of 48 hours to vacate the property after receiving the Writ of Possession.
Only law enforcement officials can remove the tenant from the property.
The Writ of Possession is issued seven days after the landlord receives Judgment for Possession while the move-out period takes 48 hours once the tenant receives the Writ of Possession.
Maine Eviction Timeline
On average, it takes 30 days to 60 days for a complete eviction process in Maine.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute. If you do not have enough evidence to show the court, the case may be overturned and the tenant may be allowed to remain in the property.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, a letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings and to have everything saved and stored away just in case.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is severe enough, it may be acceptable if it is not specifically written out in the agreement. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
Can you kick someone out without an eviction notice in Maine?
No. A landlord can be sued for forceful eviction of a tenant.
Consequences can include being sued for $250 or actual damages, whichever is greater. However, a tenant may be charged court costs should the court find out that they are suing to harass the landlord or their reasons are "frivolous."
But in cases wherein the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault, they may not be held liable for court costs or repair any substantial damage done by their abuser.
What is a self-help eviction in Maine?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity. Several states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Some state laws also provide for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to remain in the rental unit.
What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in Maine?
According to Maine Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
Can you evict a tenant during the winter in Maine?
Yes, a tenant can still be evicted during the winter months as long as the reason is valid and the court released a Writ of Possession.
What other laws should I be aware of in Maine?
Landlords must be aware of any updates regarding COVID-19 Eviction Policies because there may be restrictions in that state where no one can go to court. There may also be delays since courts could be backed up due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Landlords must also check out information about laws on Security Deposits so that they understand how it can help them in case their tenants are unable to pay for rent or repairs.
The local district court may be willing to assist landlords in understanding the eviction process in accordance with Maine law.