How much heat or other basic utilities does a landlord have to provide?
If your landlord has agreed to provide heat or other basic utilities, they have broken the law if:
- The temperature in your house or apartment is so low that it "injures the health" of anyone living there. (This rule does not apply to someone who "suffers from abnormal medical conditions," that is, someone who is so sick that he cannot stay healthy with a normal amount of heat.)
- The heating system is not able to heat the unit to at least 68 degrees when it is down to 20 degrees below zero (-20 F) outside. You can test this by setting a thermometer at least 3 feet away from an outside wall and about 5 feet above the floor. (The reading doesn't count if it is closer to the wall or floor.)
- The heating system doesn't keep the building's systems (like water pipes) from freezing up.
- Other basic utilities in your apartment don't work, making the apartment unsafe or unfit.
These are the minimum state standards. Your city may have stricter rules. To find out, call your city code enforcement office. (Smaller towns are less likely to have their own rules.)
If your landlord has broken any of these four rules, here's what to do:
- Talk to your landlord, explain the problem and ask them to fix it.
- If that doesn't work, make your complaint in writing. Keep a copy of your letter. Hand the letter to your landlord, or send it certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have written proof that they got it.
- Contact your local code enforcement officer. Ask them to inspect your home and to send a notice to the landlord, telling them to fix the problem.
- If the problem can be fixed with a minor repair, follow the steps for "Repair and Deduct".
- If none of these steps works, or if you have questions about any of this, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
Can my town or city do anything to help me?
If your landlord hasn't been providing heat or utilities, a Maine law passed in 2009 and updated in 2010 may also help you. This law allows cities and towns to provide heating fuel, furnace repairs and other basic utilities to tenants in certain situations. This does not require a city or town to help tenants, but allows them to do so. The state is now reimbursing towns for part of this cost, which should encourage more towns to step in and help.
To qualify for help with heating fuel or basic utilities from the town:
- You must be out of, or almost out of, heating fuel.
- Or you must be unable to get basic utilities.
- Town officers must decide that this situation makes living in the housing dangerous.
- The town officers must try to contact the landlord about:
- Their decision that, without fuel or basic utilities, the housing could be unlivable
- Their decision to provide heating fuel or basic utilities
- Their intention to be paid back for their costs
- The landlord's option to provide fuel, basic utilities, or repairs by a certain time, to avoid the town's intervention.
If the landlord can't be contacted or if he doesn't provide for the delivery of fuel or basic utilities, the city or town may do so.
Contact your local code enforcement office, or town office, to find out if your town will help.
If the town ends up providing fuel, basic utilities, or any necessary repairs, it will have a lien against the landlord. This means that the town will have a legal "hold" over the property. The lien will be for the cost of the fuel, basic utilities, and repairs, as well as other administrative costs.
Can I agree to less heat, in order to save on fuel?
A landlord is allowed to provide heat at less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit if they enters into an agreement with the tenant. The agreement must:
- be written in plain English, in at least 12-point type
- be separate from the lease
- be signed by both the landlord and the tenant
- state that the landlord and the tenant are free to cancel the agreement with reasonable notice
- set a minimum temperature (not lower than 62 degrees Fahrenheit)
This agreement is illegal and unenforceable if someone over 65 or under 5 years of age lives in the leased property.
The landlord is not responsible for a tenant who controls their own heat and chooses a temperature less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Get a sample agreement here.
If you signed an written agreement that says you agree to a specific condition (like no furnace) in order to get a set amount taken off of your rent, then the landlord does not have to provide a furnace. Otherwise, your landlord must meet the heating standards.
Don't withhold payment of rent unless you are prepared to move. Your landlord may be able to evict you if you don't pay the rent. If you get an eviction notice, call Pine Tree Legal.
Read more about your landlord's "warranty of habitability" and how to enforce it in Rights of Maine Renters: Unsafe or Unfit Housing.
Read more about the most recent heating assistance news.
Partially updated January, 2018