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Know Your Rights with the Right of First Refusal

“Daunting,” “baffling,” and “headache-inducing” are just a few of the words used to describe the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) (also called Tenant’s Right of First Refusal), which covers the buying or selling of a single-family residential rental property in the City of Baltimore. Our clients can be concerned because they knew that the procedures required of landlords and tenants by TOPA can be daunting, especially considering that failure to follow the code can result in criminal charges (and invalidate sales). If a landlord decides to sell or transfer a property, TOPA gives tenants the right of first refusal at buying the home they live in. For landlords, any sale of a single-family residential rental property depends on compliance with procedures set out in TOPA. Tenant’s Right of First Refusal Procedures The steps a landlord and tenant must follow are laid out by the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act…

City Council Bill Enhances Requirements for Baltimore Landlords

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry introduced a bill this year that would require licensing and inspection of all private rental properties. Currently, landlords with one- and two-unit rental properties are exempt from those requirements, but those are the properties that most often are the subject of tenant complaints. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the legislation on May 7, so the new law becomes effective in 2019. Provisions of the Law The new law establishes a three-tier licensing structure: Landlords whose properties pass initial inspections or who promptly repair violations may be licensed for three years and subject to inspection every three years. Landlords whose properties have lingering violations may be required to submit to inspection every year or every two years (depending on the severity and nature of the violations) in order to renew their licenses. Pros and Cons of the New Law Supporters of the legislation say it’s a long-overdue…

Why Landlords Should Be Proactive on Lead Paint in Properties

In March, the Maryland Senate was considering a bill that would require judges to dismiss eviction suits if landlords can’t prove their compliance with lead paint rules. Landlords with properties built prior to 1978 must provide tenants with information about the health risks of lead and take steps to minimize lead hazards. More than 4,900 children in the past decade have been diagnosed with lead poisoning, raising concerns that landlords are not adequately addressing lead hazards. Advocates for Reform By law, landlords who own properties built before 1978 must have a valid lead-paint inspection certificate before renting a home to tenants; but, according to the Public Justice Center, judges are not permitted to consider whether a landlord has such a certificate when presiding over an eviction case. Advocates for rental reform say that’s unfair to tenants. This year is not the first for a bill about lead-hazard reduction. In 2016, a bill was introduced that would…

The Responsibilities of a Rental Property Owner

Owning a commercial or residential rental property comes with responsibilities. The most basic responsibility is proper upkeep and maintenance, to ensure the tenants can use the property as intended. Additional responsibilities are defined by federal, state, and local laws. Following is a general overview of landlord responsibilities (landlords may wish to consult an attorney to make sure they’re up to date on specific laws in their city or county). Disclosures Required by Law Buildings constructed before 1978 may contain lead-based paint, which is known to cause serious health problems, especially for children. Federal law requires owners of buildings built before 1978 to give prospective tenants a lead-based paint disclosure before they sign a lease. Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing law also requires property owners to register applicable properties with the state and to have their property inspected for lead prior to every change in occupancy, unless the property has been…

New Maryland Carbon Monoxide Detector Law Effective in April

April 1 is the deadline for landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors in rental units. According to legislation that passed in 2016, in dwellings that rely on fossil fuel for heat, ventilation, hot water, or clothes dryer operation, carbon monoxide detectors must be installed on every level of a home, and in the immediate vicinity of sleeping areas. The law – Code of Maryland Article 12, Subtitle 1101 – requires carbon monoxide detectors to be hardwired, meaning they are connected via a circuit, so if one alarm is triggered, all alarms in the home will activate. But there are some exceptions. Hardwired detectors are required only in homes for which a construction permit was issued on or after Jan. 1, 2008 (because older homes might not easily accommodate hardwired systems). What’s New About This Law Maryland enacted a law in 2007 that, as of Jan. 1, 2008, required all newly…

How Landlords Can Avoid a Bad Reputation

Some landlords don’t care about the condition of their properties, but most people who get into the property rental business don’t want to be known as “slumlords.” To avoid that label, landlords must be diligent about repairing defects on their properties and maintaining the exterior. Potential Consequences of Poor Maintenance Maryland law offers many protections for tenants, and when disputes arise, they are often settled in court. The Baltimore Sun recently reviewed numerous city rent court cases. It found that in one landlord-tenant dispute, the property owner was fined $25,000 for failure to disclose or remediate the presence of lead-based paint. So, in addition to being bad for one’s reputation, a lax approach to property maintenance can have serious financial consequences. Tenants aren’t the only ones who can file a complaint against landlords. Homeowners or business owners can file a complaint if they believe a property is so neglected that…

How to Legally Screen Tenants

Landlords want to find the best tenants for their rental properties, and that begins with a thorough application and screening process. You can ask numerous questions of applicants, but some questions are forbidden, under federal housing law. Read on for tips on how to legally screen rental applicants. Getting the Basics A rental application should ask for basic information that includes: Full name, including previous/maiden name Date of birth Social Security number Current address, previous two addresses, and contact information for current and former landlords Driver’s license number and vehicle information Employment information and employer contact information Income. Including additional questions can help you weed out potential problem tenants. You may legally ask for bank account numbers, whether an applicant has ever been convicted of a felony, and whether the applicant has ever been evicted. You can also ask for a personal reference. Include language before the signature line that…

Subletting: Good or Bad for Landlords?

When drafting a lease agreement, landlords sometimes wonder whether they should include a cause that expressly forbids tenants from subletting their rentals. If you prohibit subletting, you may be able to avoid some complicated legal issues, but there are a few reasons subletting could be beneficial for landlords. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of subletting. Travel Considerations If tenants travel frequently, subletting can help ensure your property doesn’t lie vacant for weeks at a time. Plus, some landlords see an opportunity to earn extra income by allowing tenants to sublet. The San Francisco Chronicle featured a story about tenant-landlord clashes over subletting. Some landlords evicted tenants for subletting their apartments through the travel site Airbnb, but at least one landlord saw an opportunity to earn more income, offering tenants the ability to sublet, for a 20 percent share of the Airbnb rental cost. Airbnb…

Tips on Handling Rent Increase and Quit/Vacate Notices

Maryland landlord-tenant laws are sometimes quite detailed, especially regarding the information that must be included in written notices. An incorrectly worded notice, or one that’s not delivered in a timely manner, can lead to legal problems, so it’s a good idea to review the applicable laws before issuing a notice. Following is a refresher on some common notices. Quit/Vacate Notices Whether it’s the landlord or tenant ending the rental agreement, all quit/vacate notices must be in writing and must specify the date by which the tenant will vacate the property. Depending on the term of the lease and the location of the rental property, the notice must be provided within a specific time period prior to the termination of the lease.  Generally, notice must be given at least one month prior to the expiration of the term; however, if it is a year-to-year tenancy, then notice must be given three…

The Role of Wrongful Detainer in Landlord-Tenant Law

In April 2015, Washington D.C.’s FOX 5 reported an odd story about a Prince George’s County woman who claimed squatters had taken over her home. She and her sister had owned the home, but not occupied it, since their mother’s death, and the siblings showed up one day to find a large family had moved into the home. Police were powerless to remove the family without an order from the court. This unusual situation demonstrates how Maryland law provides protections for people occupying a home without permission. Landlords can’t eject anyone from their property without following the proper legal procedures. To initiate the removal of squatters or occupants not on a lease, landlords must file a Complaint for Wrongful Detainer or Grantor in Possession. Wrongful Detainer vs. Eviction A complaint of wrongful detainer is not the same as eviction of a tenant. An eviction of a tenant is the legal…