New Maine Firearms Law Poses Challenges for Landlords of Subsidized Housing
On April 5, 2016, Governor Paul LePage signed into law “An Act to Ensure Nondiscrimination Against Gun Owners in Certain Federally Subsidized Housing.” The bill, which takes effect this summer, ninety days after the adjournment of the 127th Legislature, prohibits most landlords who participate in federal housing subsidy programs from restricting the possession or use of firearms within their apartments.
Once the law takes effect, covered landlords will be prohibited from imposing, as a condition of tenancy, any restriction on the lawful use or possession of a firearm in a tenant’s specific rental unit. The bill permits “reasonable restrictions” on possession, use, or transport of firearms in common areas of apartment buildings, so long as those restrictions do not “circumvent the purpose” of the bill to allow firearms in rental units.
The law covers landlords who participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) multifamily housing rental assistance program or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing choice voucher program, along with other HUD programs under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937. Owner-occupied apartment complexes with four or fewer units are exempt from the new law.
The new law, which was supported by the National Rifle Association, represents a marked departure from existing Maine law. Although framed as a “nondiscrimination” measure, the effect of the new law is to strip landlords who participate in federal housing assistance programs of rights that other landowners enjoy—namely, the right to prohibit guns on their property. As such, it could potentially be susceptible to a constitutional challenge.
A silver lining for landlords is that the bill immunizes landlords from civil liability for injury or property damage resulting from firearms covered by the bill, except in cases of “willful, reckless or gross negligence.”
Landlords who believe they may be covered by this new law are strongly encouraged to speak with an attorney regarding its impact on their rights. The bill can be found in the Maine session laws at P.L. 2015, ch. 455, and will be codified at 14 M.R.S. § 6030-F.