blog category

Landlords and Lead Paint

Lead poisoning has been a topic making headlines lately, with the discovery of widespread lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. The problem in Flint has started a national conversation about the need to strengthen and enforce laws that protect citizens from lead poisoning in their homes – something Maryland is already doing. In January 2015, Maryland’s stricter lead-based paint law for rental properties became effective, and state regulators swiftly reminded landlords of their duty to comply. Seven months after the law took effect, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) issued notices to 87,000 property owners who hadn’t registered their properties, as required by law. While officials were lenient and gave landlords the opportunity to comply, property owners who ignore notices may be headed for legal trouble. What’s Required Before January 2015, only landlords with properties built before 1950 had to register those homes with the MDE.…

Study Highlights Problem of Baltimore Rental Housing

In December, the Abell Foundation published the results of a year-long study conducted by the Public Justice Center and Right to Housing Alliance that revealed Baltimore City’s eviction rate is among the highest in the country. Every year, up to 7,000 Baltimore families are evicted from their homes, due to non-payment of rent. These evictions typically involve low-income families. Researchers conducting the study found many of the people evicted had withheld rent because their landlords wouldn’t correct significant defects. Displaced tenants were likely unaware that Baltimore has a local law similar to Maryland’s Rent Escrow law, which might have given them a legal remedy for their maintenance concerns. It seems that some Baltimore landlords may be operating run-down properties and ignoring tenants until the rent check is late, and then moving swiftly to take legal action in order to collect rent. The study on this issue has brought this problem…

Rental Licenses

Some of the most common questions we are asked by Maryland landlords pertain to licensing – and that’s understandable, considering requirements for rental properties may vary considerably from one county to the next. Aside from determining whether they need a rental license, landlords must also determine what inspections may be required as part of the license application process. The following is an brief overview of rental requirements for some central Maryland counties; however, if you have any questions regarding whether your property needs a license, it is important to speak with the county directly or speak with an attorney. Some counties have specific exemptions, for example, for people in the military, so it is important to fully determine if you need a rental license prior to renting your property. Anne Arundel County If you are renting out rooms, portions of rooms, apartments, or units in a building, you’ll need a…

Rent Escrow in Landlord Tenant Court

In February 2015, a wave of brutally cold weather caused water pipes to burst throughout Maryland, affecting homes, businesses, schools and government buildings. For landlords, that’s a potential nightmare scenario – when pipes burst, especially in more than one rental property, the repair costs can be prohibitive. But delaying repairs can be even more costly. Maryland law requires landlords to correct serious defects in a reasonable length of time. A burst pipe that deprives tenants of running water is one such defect, as are these: A lack of heat, hot water, or electricity Sewage system failures, such as back-ups or main line obstructions or collapse Rodent infestation present in two or more units Physical defects that could harm tenants, such as a crumbling ceiling Untreated lead paint Conditions that are hazardous to the health of tenants or that are considered a fire hazard. When landlords don’t act quickly to repair…

Resolving Landlord-Tenant Disputes in Court

As a landlord, you hope you’ll never have to pursue legal action against a tenant. But there may come a time when you need to remove a tenant from your property, and in order to do that, you’ll have to obtain authorization from the court. The District Court of Maryland, a statewide court with 34 locations throughout Maryland, hears all landlord-tenant cases where the tenant is still residing in the property, such as failure to pay rent cases, tenant holding over, and eviction cases. In addition, any monetary disputes between a landlord and tenant after the tenant is no longer occupying the property, can also be litigated in District Court, however, not on the landlord-tenant docket. If the amount in dispute is less than $5,000, which is considered a small claims matter, the proceedings are informal, and a judge decides the outcome of the case. If rent, damages, or total…

Tenant Screening in Maryland

Some benevolent landlords are willing to take a chance on a tenant who has a less-than-ideal background, especially when that person is likable or charming. However, a potential tenant’s criminal history, credit score, and rental history shouldn’t be disregarded, which makes tenant screening in Maryland a must for all landlords. People with a history of being evicted, or who have broken leases in the past, cannot be counted on for consistent, timely payment of rent. There are plenty of other warning signs indicating that a tenant may be problematic, most of which can be revealed through a good screening process. Warning Signs Sometimes, landlords can tell almost immediately when an applicant could become a problem tenant. Some warning signs are when applicants: Either can’t pay for or attempt to delay payment of their security deposit Have a sporadic work history or frequent work changes – a person who has prior…

Maryland Security Deposit law

Security Deposit Basics First-time landlords know that security deposits can help pay for damage to property and be used to cover a tenant’s non-payment of rent. What landlords may not realize, however, is that Maryland’s security deposit laws are a bit more complex than those in many other states, and handling security deposits incorrectly could result in financial penalties. Deposit Amounts and Interest Maryland law allows landlords to charge a security deposit not in excess of two months’ rent. Tenants who are overcharged for a security deposit have the right to recover up to three times the extra amount charged, along with reasonable attorney fees. Upon receipt of a security deposit, a landlord has 30 days to deposit the money in an Maryland interest-bearing account. Interest accruing after January 1, 2015 must accrue at 1.5% per year or the simple interest rate accrued at the daily U.S. Treasury yield curve…

Rental Property Maintenance: Is DIY the Best Approach?

When you own rental property, you’ve got three options for handling maintenance and upkeep: Do it yourself Hire a maintenance person Hire a property management company whose services include maintenance. The right solution for you depends on the type of property you own, your budget, your free time, and whether you have the tools and knowledge necessary to perform common repairs. Following are some points to consider when deciding how you’ll handle maintenance. Property Features A studio apartment could be relatively easy to maintain, due to its small size and lack of external features. But maintaining a house with a yard can be costly and time-consuming – at a minimum, you’ll need to clean the gutters once a year, and maintain garages, fences, and other exterior structures. You may also have to respond to unexpected problems, like storm damage to a roof or fallen tree limbs. If your rental property…

Maryland Landlord Insurance/Homeowners Insurance

In September, the Maryland Association of Realtors reported about 32,000 homes were on the market in Maryland. That’s good news for buyers, because they can take their time shopping around for the perfect home. Sellers, on the other hand, may find their home is taking too long to sell – and some of those sellers will find themselves in the role of accidental landlord. The accidental landlord role is one borne of necessity. Instead of letting a home sit vacant, and potentially paying on two mortgages while waiting for one home to sell, some homeowners are leasing their slow-moving property to tenants. But landlords beware – without the right insurance policy, you could be jeopardizing your financial future. Why You Need Landlord Insurance When you first buy a home and get a homeowner’s policy, your insurer is offering to protect your investment based on the presumption that you are going…

Handling Repairs as a Landlord

Under the Maryland Code, as well as many local laws, a landlord has a duty to offer housing that is habitable -- specifically, the landlord must "repair and eliminate conditions and defects which constitute, or if not promptly corrected will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants." That means landlords need to provide regular upkeep on systems providing heat, water, and electricity, as well as ascertaining that the building is structurally sound. Staying on top of these issues is the way to keep tenants satisfied and keep rental properties occupied -- as well as to stay out of court! When maintenance issues arise, property owners may want to tackle some repair jobs by themselves. Just be aware that performing the work may not be as easy as it looks. If it isn’t done correctly, tenants can hold the landlord…