Tenant Rights in Maryland

Maryland state law offers tenants legal remedies when landlords neglect their responsibilities, but some tenants may be unaware of their rights.

Even before signing a lease, tenants should know what landlords can and cannot do, as defined by local, state, and federal laws. If you’re a tenant who believes a landlord has violated your rights, contact Lusk Law, LLC, at 443-535-9715 to schedule an appointment.

Attorney Lusk

Fair Housing Laws

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title VIII, is a federal law that prohibits housing-related discrimination on the basis of color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status (including pregnancy, and being a parent to or guardian of a child under the age of 18). Maryland also forbids discrimination on the basis of marital status, gender identification, or sexual orientation.

In accordance with fair housing laws, landlords may not advertise a rental property in a way that excludes or favors a particular status. For example, a landlord cannot say in a housing ad that they “prefer tenants with no children.”

Deposits and Fees

Most landlords charge an application fee to help cover the costs of background checks. They are entitled to keep $25 of that fee, regardless of whether the applicant becomes a tenant. If landlords charge more than $25 for the application fee, they must refund any amount not used in the processing of a rental application.

Security deposits – which tenants should not pay until they sign a lease – cannot exceed two months’ rent. The landlord must put the security deposit into an escrow account. For leases that began on or after Jan. 1, 2015, the security deposit accrues interest at a rate of 1.5 percent per year, or “the simple interest rate accrued at the daily U.S. Treasury yield curve rate for one year, as of the first business date of each year, whichever is greater.”

Landlords may not keep any portion of the damage deposit to cover what’s considered normal wear and tear (such as worn carpeting). Landlords may use funds from the security deposit for repairing defects caused by the tenant or for covering a tenant’s unpaid rent. Whatever the reason may be for not returning some or all of the deposit, the landlord must specify in writing how they used those funds within 45 days after the tenant vacates the property.

Tenant Options for Unrepaired Defects

One of the most common tenant complaints is that landlords fail to repair defects on the property in a timely manner. If those defects endanger tenants’ health or safety in any way, tenants do have legal options.

Tenants can petition the court for an escrow action against the landlord, which, if granted, allows tenants to pay rent into that account, instead of to the landlord. The landlord must remedy defects before the court will grant access to rent funds in the escrow account.

Some localities have their own laws that apply to property maintenance. Baltimore City, for example, has an implied warranty of fitness, meaning that in any residential lease – oral or written – the landlord guarantees a property is fit for human occupancy. If, upon moving into a rental home, the tenant finds the home is not habitable due to rodent infestation, a lack of sanitation, or some other major defect, the tenant may – within 30 days – petition the court to declare their lease void and to order the return of deposits and fees.

Eviction Actions

Even when tenants have failed to pay rent, landlords may not instantaneously evict them. Maryland requires landlords to request permission from the court before evicting tenants. Once notified that their landlord has requested permission to evict, a tenant can avoid eviction by paying all past due amounts, including late fees and court costs, unless the tenant has been the subject of three or more rent judgments in the previous 12 months.

If the tenant does not pay what is owed, the court will usually enter a judgment for possession of the property on behalf of the landlord. The tenant has four days from the date of that judgment to pay the rent owed and if the rent owed is not paid, the landlord can petition the court to schedule the eviction with the Sheriff, through a warrant of restitution. The Sherriff must be present at the time of the eviction, otherwise, the landlord cannot remove the tenant from the property. An eviction may be due to weather or because of a tenant’s poor health.

Help with Legal Issues

Most landlords are aware of the laws that apply to them and do their best to ensure a good relationship with tenants. But some unscrupulous landlords take advantage of their tenants’ lack of awareness. That’s why it’s important to know your rights.

If you need help with your landlord complaint, contact Lusk Law, LLC, online or at 443-535-9715, to request an appointment with a tenant-landlord attorney.

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