Rights of Tenants: Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking
How do I let my landlord know that I am in an abusive situation?
A key part of this new law is communication with your landlord. Your landlord must protect your rights, but only after they know that you have them. You must also “verify” the situation by naming the abuser and giving your landlord some “proof.” This “proof” can include things like a:
- statement signed by a sexual assault counselor or a victim witness advocate
- statement signed by a health care provider or law enforcement officer
- copy of a protection from abuse complaint or order
- copy of a protection from harassment complaint or order
- copy of a relevant police report, or
- copy of a criminal complaint, indictment or conviction
Once you have notified your landlord of your situation, the following rights come into play.
Won’t I be in worse trouble with my landlord if I tell them?
Under the more general Maine landlord/tenant laws, an eviction can be based on: 1) nuisance, 2) damage to property, or 3) disturbance (to other tenants or neighbors). This new law says that your landlord cannot evict you for one of these reasons if the problem was caused by an abuser, and you are the victim of that abuse. Again, your landlord needs to know the facts of your situation so that they will know that this legal protection applies.
But what if my landlord tries to evict me because I told them about my situation?
The law says that your landlord cannot do this. This is called “illegal retaliation.” So, once you notify your landlord of the abuse, the law assumes that, for the next 6 months, any attempted eviction is in retaliation. The court would not give your landlord an eviction order unless your landlord proves that the eviction is for a different reason (like non-payment of rent). Read more about the Maine eviction process here.
Can I be charged by my landlord if the abuser damages the property?
The answer depends on whether the abuser lives with you.
- The abuser is also a tenant in your unit. Your landlord can charge you for any damage by taking it out of your joint security deposit. But they cannot charge you more than that amount. Again, notification to your landlord is the key. To get this protection, you must give your landlord notice and “proof” (see above) within 30 days of the relevant incident.
- The abuser does not live in the unit. If you did not invite the abuser in or allow them to be there, you cannot be held responsible. Filing a police report can help to verify that you aren't at fault in this situation.
What if I need to move because of the abuse? Can I end my tenancy?
Yes. Again, you need to “document” the abuse. See above.
If you are a “tenant at will” (no lease) or you have a lease for less than a year: You must give your landlord a written notice of your intent to move at least 7 days before you intend to move out.
If you have a lease term for a year or more: You must give your landlord a written notice of your intent to move at least 30 days before you intend to move out.
After the 7 days, or 30 days, ends, you are no longer responsible for paying rent. (By giving the notice, you have ended your tenancy, so you must move.) If you have prepaid rent for the month, your landlord does not have to give you a refund.
Can I stay if the abuser is evicted?
Yes. In this situation, your landlord can evict the abuser, if they choose. Go here to read about eviction procedures the landlord must use to evict the abuser. But your landlord cannot evict you – unless they have an allowable reason (such as non-payment of rent).
Going forward, you will still be responsible for paying the rent. If you get a rent subsidy (such as a Section 8 voucher) and your household income is now lower, you need to ask the Housing Authority for a recalculation of your rent based on the new household income.
Does the abuser have to pay me back for damages?
You can sue the abuser for the damages the abuser caused. You can also get court costs and attorney’s fees against the abuser. This "attorney fee" part of the law is significant. This may make it easier for you to find a lawyer to help you to sue the abuser.
What if I need to change the locks to keep the abuser out?
The general rule in Maine is that a tenant who changes the locks to arental unit must notify the landlord, and give the landlord a duplicate key within 48 hours. But in this case, you have 72 hours to give your landlord a duplicate key. You will need to pay to have the lock changed, and for the copy of the key, yourself.
Updated October 15, 2015
PTLA Case Type #379