By: Deb Ibonwa and Oriana Farnham

As a tenant, you have the right to live in safe spaces with healthy conditions. You have the right to receive adequate notice in advance of being evicted, and you can’t be evicted unless you’re brought to court and a judge issues an order to make you leave the property.

Maine Equal Justice and Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) provide legal representation to tenants who have low income, including immigrants. When you have an issue with your landlord and need help, you should call PTLA or Maine Equal Justice. If you get an eviction notice from your landlord, or if you hear from your landlord that you might be getting kicked out, reach out for legal help. You should not leave your home without knowing your options and rights, and DO NOT assume that there is nothing you can do to defend yourself, or that there is no one to help you. 

In fact, Maine Equal Justice and Pine Tree lawyers have won several legal cases in eviction court for Mainers who are non-citizens. Recently, a Maine Equal Justice attorney met a tenant at the Portland courthouse who is also an asylum seeker. The tenant asked for help because she had gotten behind on her rent after getting laid off from her job. Our attorney talked to the landlord’s lawyer and got two extra weeks to help the tenant get financial help for rent. We connected her with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and rental assistance through The Opportunity Alliance, and we got the case dismissed because she was able to pay back all the rent that she owed. 

In order to evict a tenant, a landlord has to follow certain rules. Having a lawyer’s help in eviction court is very valuable: we can make sure your landlord followed the rules, get you a language interpreter, talk to your landlord or landlord’s lawyer, and represent you in front of the judge. Studies have shown that tenants in an eviction who have a lawyer are much more likely to keep their home. 

Maine law also requires landlords to keep your apartment safe, free of bug infestations, and warm in the winter. If your landlord has failed to do these things, a lawyer may be able to help you get your landlord to make needed repairs. 

We have heard from clients and community partner organizations that there is fear in some immigrant communities that going to court to defend yourself against an eviction or asking for your landlord to fix problems in your apartment will harm your immigration relief application process. This is not true. Your landlord cannot harass you or discriminate against you for your nationality, race, ethnicity, and many other things. 

For more help, you can call PTLA during their intake hours. You can find the hours for your local PTLA office by visiting this website: https://www.ptla.org/contact-us.  

You can also contact Maine Equal Justice if you have any questions at (207) 888-9788, or fill out a form on our website at https://maineequaljustice.org/contact-us/. You can also find both organizations at eviction court in Portland, and you can get help even if you haven’t talked to a lawyer before the court date.

You should contact the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) if you need help with your immigration questions (not questions about your housing). Submit a request for help on their website at: https://ilapmaine.org/get-legal-help.