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and Tenants: Tips on Avoiding Disputes
This booklet provides you with information about Maryland landlord/tenant laws. It covers topics dealing with applications, leases, security deposits, rent escrow, lead paint hazards, eviction, and where to seek help if problems arise. In reviewing this material, keep in mind that many Maryland counties and Baltimore City have different landlord/tenant laws that may provide additional protections or require that you follow different procedures.
A free, printed copy of this booklet may be ordered by calling the Consumer Protection Division at (410) 576-6500.
This booklet is also available in PDF format; click here.
An application fee is any fee other than a security deposit paid to a landlord before a lease is signed. You should never sign a lease until your application has been accepted.
Landlords use application fees to cover the costs of processing an application, such as running a credit check. A landlord is entitled to keep an application fee of $25 or less. If the fee is more than $25, the landlord must refund any amount that was not actually used to process your application. The excess amount must be returned to you within 15 days after you've moved in or after you or the landlord has given written notification that the rental won't take place.
If the landlord withholds more than $25 of an application fee from you, you should ask the landlord to provide a written explanation of exactly what expenses were incurred, and what the cost of each item was. If you are not satisfied with the explanation, you may want to pursue the matter further.
If, at the time you fill out an application, a landlord asks for money to hold an apartment, it may not be clear to you that you are being asked for a security deposit. It is not wise to pay a security deposit until your application has been accepted and you are signing a lease. Before you pay any money, you should confirm with the landlord whether it will be refunded if you decide not to rent or if the landlord decides not to rent to you. Ask the landlord to write that information on a receipt. This could save you from having to fight to get the money refunded later.
A landlord is required to use a written lease if the tenancy is going to be for a year or longer, or if the landlord owns five or more rental units in the State. Otherwise the landlord and tenant may orally agree on what the rent and other terms of the rental will be. If you enter into such an oral contract, it is very important that you know your and your landlord's legal rights and responsibilities. You should also have a clear understanding with your landlord about all terms in the agreement. However, it would be to your advantage to clarify things by having your agreement with the landlord in a written lease.
Many landlords use a standard lease for all their tenants. However, there is nothing to prevent you from negotiating your own terms with the landlord. Additional terms can be written on the agreement, and terms that are unacceptable to you can be crossed out. Of course the landlord has to agree to these terms as well. Be sure that all changes are dated and initialed by both you and the landlord.
Maryland law requires that a landlord who offers five or more dwelling units for rent in Maryland must include in each lease a statement that the premises will be available in a reasonably safe, habitable condition; or, if that is not the agreement, a statement concerning the condition of the premises. The lease must also specify the landlord's and the tenant's obligations as to heat, gas, electricity, water, and repair of the premises.
A lease may
not contain any provision that denies rights granted to tenants under
Maryland law. The lease may not:
Copy of the Lease
It is a very good idea that you get a copy of the lease to read in advance. Before you sign a lease, you should be aware of all the terms it includes, including when rent is due, late fees, procedures for giving notice at the end of the lease, automatic renewal provisions and return of the security deposit. You should also read and make sure you can live with the rules regarding pets, parking, storage areas, noise, requirements to cover floors with carpeting, trash, maximum number of occupants, and move-out procedures.
of the Security Deposit
broke his lease when he bought a house. The landlord was able to rent
to a new tenant three days after Benny moved out. However, he said he
was keeping Benny's security deposit because Benny had broken the lease.
Was the landlord entitled to keep the money?
lived in an apartment for five years. When she moved out, the landlord
kept her security deposit to repaint the apartment and replace the living
room carpet. Was the landlord entitled to keep the money?
The landlord must return a tenant's security deposit plus interest, less any damages rightfully withheld, within 45 days after the tenancy ends. If the landlord fails to do this without a good reason, you may sue for up to three times the withheld amount, plus reasonable attorney's fees.
If the landlord withholds any part of your security deposit, he or she must send you a written list of damages, with a statement of what it actually cost to repair the damages, by first-class mail to your last known address within 45 days after you move out. If the landlord fails do this, he or she loses the right to withhold any part of the security deposit.
the right to be present when the landlord inspects your rental unit for
damages at the end of your lease, if you notify the landlord by certified
mail, at least 15 days prior to moving, of your intention to move, the
date of moving, and your new address. The landlord must then notify you
by certified mail of the time and date of the inspection. The inspection
must be held within five days before or five days after your move-out
date. The landlord must disclose these rights to you in writing at the
time you pay the security deposit. If the landlord does not, he or she
forfeits the right to withhold any part of the security deposit for damages.
or Normal Wear and Tear?
If a landlord fails to allow you to take possession of your rental unit at the beginning of your lease, you have the right to cancel the lease with a written notice to the landlord. Also, the landlord is liable to you for any damages you suffer as a result of not being able to move in at the beginning of the lease, whether or not you decide to cancel the lease. Unfortunately, while the landlord may be legally responsible for the your expenses in this situation, it may not be easy to obtain payment. You may have to take the landlord to court and then undertake collection efforts.
Many leases contain a provision that allows the lease to automatically renew for another term, or to renew on a month-to-month basis, unless either the landlord or the tenant gives prior notice that they will not renew. Note how many days' notice you will have to give the landlord if you do not wish to renew the lease. If you fail to give this notice in time, you could find your lease automatically renewed.
You should give the notice in writing and be sure that the landlord receives it on time. Send the notice by certified mail if you want to have proof that it was received on time.
An automatic renewal provision in a lease must provide a space for the tenant to give written acknowledgment agreeing to the provision. If the landlord cannot show your signature, initials or witnessed mark acknowledging that provision, the landlord cannot enforce an automatic renewal of the lease.
Other leases do not have automatic renewal provisions, so you must sign a new lease if you wish to continue renting.
or Other Changes in Terms
A lease obligates you to pay rent through the end of the lease. If you break your lease, the landlord can hold you responsible for the rent due through the remainder of the lease. However, a landlord is required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the apartment to limit losses. If the landlord is able to re-rent the unit, you are only responsible for the rent until the date the new tenant moves in. However, a landlord with multiple vacant units is not required to put a new tenant into the unit you have vacated. Also, a landlord can hold you responsible for costs of re-renting, such as advertising for a new tenant.
Some written leases have a clause that allows the tenant to cancel the lease with a certain amount of notice, and perhaps the payment of a fee, such as two month's rent. Some other leases contain a clause that allows a tenant to cancel the lease if the tenant is transferred by an employer to a location a certain number of miles away. Under Maryland law, military personnel who have received orders for a permanent change of station (or temporary duty for more than three months) may end a lease with proper notice.
It's wise to think ahead before signing a long-term lease. If you anticipate buying a house, getting married or having to move for some other reason in the near future, ask the landlord to give you a six-month lease or a month-to-month lease. If you anticipate a job transfer, ask the landlord to add a job transfer clause to the contract that would allow you to end the lease early, with appropriate notice.
ESCROW: WHEN THE LANDLORD FAILS TO MAKE REPAIRS
Under Maryland law, if a landlord fails to repair serious or dangerous defects in a rental unit, you have the right to pay your rent into an escrow account established at the local district court. But the law is very specific about the conditions under which rent may be placed in escrow. You must give the landlord proper notice and adequate time to make the repairs before you have the right to place rent in escrow. The escrow account can only be set up by the court.
The serious or dangerous conditions include, but are not limited to:
Rent escrow is not provided for defects that just make the apartment or home less attractive or comfortable, such as small cracks in the floors, walls or ceiling.
In order to withhold rent for conditions that constitute a threat to life, health or safety you must notify the landlord by providing actual notice or by certified mail, or the landlord must receive notice of the violations from an appropriate government agency such as the local housing department.
The landlord then has a reasonable amount of time after receipt of the notice in which to correct the conditions. If the landlord fails to do this, you may go to court to file a rent escrow action asking to pay the rent to the court.
Before an escrow account can be established, the court will hold a hearing to listen to both sides of the story. If the facts call for a rent escrow account to be set up, the judge can take several actions, including returning all or part of the money to you as compensation, returning all or part of the money to you or the landlord in order to make repairs, or appointing a special administrator to ensure that the repairs are made. Once the escrow account is established, you must continue to regularly pay rent into this account.
Baltimore City has a rent escrow law that is very similar to the state law. Therefore, Baltimore residents must exercise their rent escrow rights under city law. If you reside in a county where such a rent escrow law has been adopted, you must follow procedures required in the local law for setting up an escrow account.
You also may withhold rent without establishing an escrow account, but you still must notify the landlord by certified mail of the problems in the unit and of your refusal to pay the rent. However, the landlord could take you to court and try to evict you. You then may defend yourself by telling the court your reasons for withholding rent. If the court agrees that the condition of your home or apartment poses a serious threat to your life, health or safety, you will be required at that time to put your rent payments into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.
rent escrow, what else can a tenant do if a landlord does not make repairs?
RETALIATION AGAINST TENANTS
Maryland Law Provides:
If a tenant sends a written "Notice of Defect" to a landlord that there is chipping, peeling paint or a child with elevated blood lead level in the property, the landlord must respond by performing Modified Risk Reduction Measures within 30 days after receiving the notice. Pregnant women and children under 6 years old must not be in the house while Risk Reduction Treatments are being performed. If you are required to leave your house for more than 24 hours while treatments are performed, the property owner must pay for reasonable expenses for overnight housing and meals for your family to stay in temporary lead-safe housing.
It is illegal in Maryland for a landlord to retaliate and evict a tenant primarily because the tenant or a housing inspector sends a notice to the landlord informing him or her that there are lead hazards in the property or that there is a child with an elevated blood lead level in the property.
of Federal Law:
A landlord cannot evict you simply because you have filed a complaint or a lawsuit against him or her or have joined a tenant's association. This is called a "retaliatory eviction," and you may be able to stop an eviction by showing the court that your landlord is evicting you solely for one of these reasons.
A landlord can evict you for:
In addition, the state's attorney, the county attorney, or community associations may bring an eviction action against tenants involved in illegal drug activities.If your landlord begins an eviction proceeding, you will receive an official summons to attend a hearing. The summons may be served on you in person, but most often it is mailed and/or posted on the rental property. Don't ignore it. Go to the hearing and be on time! If you don't show up the landlord will probably win.
The hearing gives you the chance to tell your side of the story. For example, you may be able to prove that you did pay the rent, or that you tried to pay the rent but the landlord wouldn't accept it, or that the landlord didn't give you a month's written notice that you had violated your lease and had to move out.
If the judge finds the landlord's case more convincing, he or she will rule in favor of the landlord. Within five working days, the landlord can file for a court order for the eviction, called a "warrant of restitution," and arrange for a sheriff to oversee the eviction.
You may appeal an eviction judgment. The appeal must be made within four days of the date of judgment in non-payment of rent cases and 10 days in breach of lease or holding over cases. You may have to post a bond to cover the rent while waiting for the circuit court to decide the appeal.
On the date of an eviction, the sheriff will come to the rental unit to order the tenant and everyone inside to leave. The landlord or the landlord's employees can then remove all property from the unit and put it on the public right-of-way while the sheriff supervises. Once the property is moved from the unit, it is the tenant's responsibility.
Tenants Facing Eviction
If an eviction would leave you homeless, you may be eligible for help from an eviction prevention program offered by a non-profit housing assistance group or your local government. One such program is offered by Baltimore City's Department of Social Services: (410) 878-8650.
Maryland Branch Office
Although the Consumer Protection Division covers the entire state, some counties also have their own consumer protection offices that could help you with rental problems. Find out if your county has its own landlord-tenant laws that might offer you extra protection. These two counties have a consumer affairs division that can try to help you with your dispute:
Office of Consumer Affairs
County Division of Consumer Affairs
You may also get help from these groups:
Justice Center's Tenant Advocacy Project. Assists low-income tenants in
Baltimore to improve substandard housing conditions and prevent unjust
Neighborhoods, Inc. A tenant rights organization.
Local Code Enforcement Agencies (check your local directory)
of landlord to give tenant receipt
Real Property, Title 8A: Mobile Home Parks
My landlord has not repaired my dishwasher. Can I hold back part of my rent until he does? Not paying your full rent may put you at risk of being evicted. See section on rent escrow for situations that might qualify for rent escrow.
The landlord says I damaged the carpet, but the stains were there when I moved in. What can I do? If you noted the stains on a move-in inspection form that you submitted to the landlord, you have proof that you did not cause the stains. If you didn't note the stains as pre-existing, you have no proof and the landlord may have a right to hold back part of your security deposit.
Do I have
a grace period for late rent payments?
Can a landlord evict me just by telling me to leave or else he will put my things on the street? No, a landlord must go to court to get a judgment against you first.
I was supposed to move in on the first of the month. The other tenant hasn't moved out. What are my rights? See section on Right to Take Possession at Beginning of Lease.
A landlord wouldn't rent to me, and I think it is a case of discrimination. Who do I complain to? The Maryland Commission on Human Relations investigates complaints of housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, familial status, or physical or mental handicap. Call;
Do I have to pay the last month's rent? I thought that was what the security deposit was for. You are obligated to pay rent through the end of the lease, including the last month. If you paid all your rent and didn't cause any damages, the landlord will return your security deposit.
Is there any limit to how much my landlord can increase the rent for a new lease term? Maryland state law has no rent control provisions, although local jurisdictions may have rent control laws. See section on lease renewals.
Updated January 2002
Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372