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 expenses are between $5,000 and $30,000, the case is considered a large claim, and it is litigated according to formal rules of the court.
The Process for Removing Tenants
In order to evict or remove a tenant or non-tenant from a rental property, the landlord must file a formal complaint with the court, citing at least one of the following violations:
- Tenant’s failure to pay rent
- Tenant refuses to leave a property at the end of a lease
- Breach of lease, such as misuse of rental property, possession of unauthorized pets, or tenant permitting other people to live on the premises who are not on the lease
- Wrongful detainer, meaning either a tenant or non-tenant refuses to leave the property
If the court issues a judgment in favor of the landlord, then within 60 days a landlord may file a Petition for Warrant of Restitution. If the judgment is based on Tenant’s failure to pay rent, the landlord must wait four days prior to filing the Warrant of Restitution. Once the court signs the Warrant of Restitution, it is sent to the Sheriff for service on the tenant and the landlord may proceed with eviction.
So long as a tenant does not have a record of more than three failure to pay rent judgments in the prior 12 months, a tenant may be able to avoid eviction by paying any rent owed, along with court costs and late fees.
The tenant will be notified by the Sheriff of the date of the eviction and, unless the tenant vacates prior to the eviction, the Sheriff must be present and the landlord must hire an eviction company to remove the tenant’s personal property from the rental.
Defense Against Tenant Complaints
Landlords sometimes wind up in court because a tenant has brought a complaint against them. These claims may arise when a tenant feels a landlord has failed to provide a safe and habitable rental unit.
Maryland law defines “serious and dangerous defects” as the basis for both a tenant’s action against a landlord and a tenant’s right to withhold rent in escrow with the court. These conditions include:
- A lack of heat, light, electricity, or water (unless those utilities were shut off due to a tenant’s non-payment of bills)
- Lack of sewage disposal
- Rodent infestation in two or more units
- Unmitigated lead paint hazards
- Structural defects that pose a threat to a tenant’s physical safety
- Any condition considered a serious fire or health hazard
A tenant who alleges a landlord has failed to correct these defects may file a rent escrow action with the court and, if granted, the tenant then pays his rent into an escrow account with the court. Unless authorized by the court, the landlord will not receive the escrowed rent payments until repairs are made. A tenant may also report a landlord to local health and housing authorities for failing to correct dangerous defects.
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