Maine Landlord Eviction Guide
A landlord always wants to find the perfect tenant: one who pays on time every month, keeps the unit clean, does not cause trouble with the neighbors. Unfortunately, those people are hard to find. Too often people will present themselves that way when they are looking to rent an apartment, but once they move in they don’t seem to care about anything. And a landlord who needs to get a tenant out needs to follow the law, or risk even more trouble.
A smart landlord will have a good lease that can be used to limit the damage of a bad tenant. The lease should be clear in what the rules are and what behavior is not acceptable. The restrictions need to be reasonable, and the lease needs to be clear as to the consequences for breaking the rules. Apart from the rent obligation, tenants can be required to keep the unit clean and in good repair. While a security deposit will help if a tenant has caused some damage, if you have a tenant that is causing considerable damage, you will want to get them out. As to cleanliness, it is one thing if there are just clothes everywhere, but another if there is excessive food waste which can bring insects and rodents. Other common issues are tenants who are noisy late into the night, smoke indoors or harass other tenants.
If attempts to resolve the problems with the tenant fail, you can begin the eviction process. It is crucial that you follow the procedure set up in the law, otherwise you will end up wasting time. A crucial point here is that if the tenant is still under the terms of the lease, and not a hold-over / “tenant at will,” then the terms of the lease control. If the original lease expired, and you did not have the tenant sign a new lease, then the state’s regulations control the process.
The first step is to serve the tenant with notice that you are terminating the lease, which is called a “notice to quit”. This goes back to having a good lease – as the lease will dictate how many days, and how you need to give the tenant notice before they should be out. If you are in a tenant at will situation, then the State’s regulations dictate how and when a notice to quit needs to be served.* If the tenant has not vacated the unit by the time you have provided in the notice, then you need to begin a legal proceeding known as a complaint for forcible entry and detainer.
The District Court in your jurisdiction is where you will need to begin the forcible entry and detainer proceeding. The Courts have set days available for the hearings, and you need to serve the tenant the required amount of time before the hearing.* At the hearing, if the tenant does show up, the Court will likely have you attempt mediation with the tenant and a Court sponsored mediator. You should make a good faith effort to come to an agreement about when the tenant will move out, or if the problem you are having with the tenant can be resolved. If an agreement cannot be reached, then you will go back and wait to present your case before the judge.
At the hearing you should be prepared with all of your records and paperwork to make your claim. The tenant can make their arguments as to why they should not be evicted. The judge will decide the outcome, but may try to get you and the tenant to agree on something. At that point the judge will grant the eviction or not.
If the eviction is granted, or if the tenant fails to show resulting in a default, then a writ for possession will be issued. It takes a few days before the actual writ is issued,* and then it needs to be served on the tenant. Once the writ has been served, and the time expires for the tenant to be out (currently 48 hours), then they are considered trespassers.
Overall this can be a long process, and mistakes will make it longer. It is best to work with an attorney who can help you guide through it, and advice you based on the specifics of your situation. My office is happy to assist you with preparing the right lease, or eviction process.
* As these regulations and timeframes may change over time, I am purposely not providing the details here.
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