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 process of removing a tenant or occupants who were paying rent to live in the property, whereas a wrongful detainer is the process of removing occupants that have no legal right to have possession of the property. If a landlord is able to file the following complaints, a wrongful detainer complaint would not be allowed by the court:
  • Failure to Pay Rent – Landlord’s Complaint for Repossession of Rented Property
Maryland law does not establish a grace period for non-payment of rent, nor are landlords required to notify tenants before filing a Failure to Pay Rent complaint. Depending on the terms of your lease agreement, you could begin eviction proceedings on the first day rent is late.
  • Complaint and Summons Against a Tenant Holding Over
This is a complaint for removing a tenant whose lease has ended but refuses to leave property or an occupant who has no lease but has been paying money to reside in the property. For year-to-year tenancies, landlords must provide three months’ notice if the tenant must move out at the end of a one-year lease. For leases of undefined terms or more than one month, landlords must provide 30 days’ notice of termination, and one week’s notice is required for termination of a week-to-week tenancy.
  • Complaint and Summons Against a Tenant in Breach of Lease
When a tenant commits a serious violation of the lease, the landlord must still provide 30 days’ notice of the intent to repossess the property. The court must determine that the breach is serious and merits eviction. If the violation creates an imminent danger, a landlord is required to provide only 14 days’ notice of repossession.

Other Considerations

Sometimes, more than one legal action may be warranted. For example, if a tenant’s lease prohibits the use or sale of illegal drugs, and the tenant permits a roommate to move in who uses or sells drugs on the property, a landlord may be able to file a breach of lease claim against the tenant and a wrongful detainer complaint against the roommate. No landlord enjoys evicting tenants or removing unauthorized residents. A clearly worded lease and thorough credit check, background check, and income verification can help landlords avoid tenants who are likely to fall behind on rent or violate terms of their lease. It’s also a good idea for landlords to consult with an attorney at least once a year, because federal, state, and local laws do change from time to time, which may merit a revision of lease agreements. Lusk Law, LLC, specializes in assisting landlords, helping to avoid litigation when possible, and we’re ready to actively represent our clients in court when litigation is necessary. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to landlords in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County, and other counties in Maryland. With over a decade of experience in representing landlords, we’re ready to offer a consultation concerning your rights. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.