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EVICTIONS IN CAMPGROUNDS

STATUTORY GUIDANCE

When ejecting a camper from a campground premises, the campground owner does not always need to comply with the rigid, time-consuming, and costly eviction (forcible entry and detainer) process set forth in Maine’s landlord/tenant laws. For instance, Title 30-A M.R.S.A. § 3837 provides that a campground owner may request that any person leave the campground premises if they are “causing unnecessary disturbance to other persons on the premises” or if they are “damaging or destroying property belonging to [the owner].” If the camper refuses to leave, the law allows the owner or manager to use “a reasonable degree of force against that person to remove that person from the premises.” Owners should be very careful, however, exercising this right, as one does not want to be in the position of having to argue about what constitutes “reasonable force.” The law also provides that “the owner or manager may request a law enforcement officer to remove that person from the premises.” Requesting the assistance of law enforcement is the safest procedure for handling someone who refuses to leave the premises, especially if dealing with a disorderly camper or one under the influence of alcohol, or if the owner or manager suspects illegal activity. In fact, a campground owner has a duty to prohibit “any reveling, riotous or disorderly conduct, drunkenness or excess” on the premises. See 30-A M.R.S.A. § 3834.
It is important for campground owners to recognize when the expedited process applies, and to follow the correct process to avoid delay and help minimize costs. Maine courts have determined that, in order to avoid the general landlord tenant laws and exercise rights to eject campers, several factors need to be considered to confirm that the premises is, in fact, a “lodging house” or campground, as opposed to a typical rented dwelling. One building owner tried to evict a resident without utilizing the landlord-tenant laws, but the court determined that the premises in question was a regular rental property to which the forcible entry and detainer procedure applied. Degenhardt v. EWE Ltd. Partnership, 13 A.3d 790, 2011 ME 23. The Court was swayed by the long-term residency of some of the guests, and by the fact that the renter paid rent by the month, as opposed to on a daily or weekly basis, among other factors.
When it comes to seasonal renters, a court would look at the facts and determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a property owner can escape the rigid forcible entry and detainer process. Failing to comply with the forcible entry and detainer process – when applicable – can have serious consequences for campground owners, including actions for wrongful eviction, which may include attorneys’ fees and civil penalties.

DISCRIMINATION ISSUES

Maine law also provides exceptions, or “safe harbors,” to rules prohibiting unlawful discrimination in campgrounds, allowing campground owners to eject anyone, notwithstanding membership in a protected class under the Maine Human Rights Act, who: “is unwilling or unable to pay for accommodations and services of the hotel, lodging house or campground.” The innkeeper or campground owner may require the prospective guest to demonstrate the ability to pay by cash, valid credit card or a validated check.

Title 30-A M.R.S.A. § 3838(1). Another exception to discrimination prohibition allows a campground owner to eject anyone who:

Disturbs, threatens or endangers other guests;
Is a minor and possesses or uses alcohol;
Possesses or uses illegal drugs; or
Violates any rule of the hotel, lodging house or campground that is posted in a conspicuous place and manner at the guest registration desk and in each guest room.

Title 30-A M.R.S.A. § 3838(5).
It is important to note that any ejection must be for one of the reasons listed, and not solely because a person belongs to a protected class (i.e., religion, race, ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual orientation). Discriminatory evictions can also subject campground owners to civil actions against them, as well as Maine Human Rights Commission complaints and investigations.
Linnell, Choate & Webber, LLP can assist campground owners with determining which process they should use to evict campers, and with all other eviction issues. We can also assist with drafting rental agreements with clear guidelines about expected and appropriate behavior, which will help keep everyone a happy camper.

-John “Jack” Conway and Sonia J. Buck

This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance.  The authors, Sonia Buck and Jack Conway, are attorneys at Linnell, Choate & Webber in Auburn, Maine.  To contact them, please call 207-784-4563, or email,  jconway@lcwlaw.com.