Landlord-Tenant Handbook


1. Housing Emergencies:

Landlords must have 24 hour emergency numbers.  If you cannot reach your landlord or your landlord will not respond to the emergency, you can call your local housing code enforcement office.  Contact information is listed in our Resource Section above.  If your problem involves a utility such as gas or electricity, you should also contact the provide directly.

2. Evictions:

 

Call the police if your landlord puts your belongings on the street or locks you out. Evictions must be authorized by a judge and carried out under the Sheriff’s supervision.

3. Finding Landlord-Tenant Statutes and Codes and Other Useful Links

 

Maryland State Law:
The Maryland landlord-tenant statute is found in Title 8 of the Real Property Volume of the Maryland Annotated Code.  The Code is available in UM and county libraries and on-line.  Use our resource link “Maryland Code” on our home page to access the Real Property Volume.

County And City Codes:
Each county has its own set of landlord-tenant laws, including housing code standards. In addition, cities such as College Park, Greenbelt, and Berwyn Heights have their own housing codes and enforcement systems.  To access county codes, use the link on our Resource page.

Note: Some counties have Offices of Landlord-Tenant Affairs. These Offices publish informational materials, answer questions by phone, and may have authority to investigate, mediate, or resolve landlord-tenant disputes. Prince George’s County does not have a Landlord-Tenant Office or Commission. Montgomery County and incorporated cities in the county such as Rockville and Takoma Park have Landlord-Tenant Offices. See our Resource Section for contact information.  In Prince George’s county, complaints regarding landlord-tenant issues can be made to the state Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division.  The state Human Relations Commission handles claims of housing discrimination for the county.

Recommended reading on Maryland Landlord-Tenant Law:

oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords

peoples-law.com

BNI, Inc.

 

4. Leases

Legally binding contract:  A lease is a legally binding contract. It cannot be unilaterally changed or terminated by the landlord or tenant.

Written or oral?  In Maryland, all leases for a year or longer must be in writing.  Most other leases must be in writing as well, although oral leases of less than a year are allowed in limited circumstances (for example, where an owner lives in the home and rents out rooms to tenants).

Prohibited/Required Lease provisions:  Maryland statutes contain a list of provisions that must be required in written residential leases, as well as a list of provisions that may not be included.  For further details,  go to peoples-law.com or oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords

Right to see lease:  A landlord who rents using a written lease must, upon written request by an applicant, provide a copy of the proposed lease, complete in all important details except the date, rental rate, designation of the premises, and name and address of tenant. The landlord must provide this copy without requiring a deposit or actual execution of the lease.

Application Fees (Maryland Real Property Code 8-213):  For a good discussion of this topic, go to oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.

Lease Term: Leases may be for any amount of time agreed upon by the landlord and tenant. Many apartment complexes initially require a one year lease and thereafter offer month-to-month tenancies. Some landlords require a year long lease but agree to a shorter period in return for a higher monthly rent. Some jurisdictions have special laws for single family rentals; for example, Montgomery County requires the landlord to offer a two year lease for single family homes, but Prince George’s county does not have a comparable requirement.

Expiration vs. Automatic Renewal (IMPORTANT – READ CAREFULLY):

Some leases automatically expire at the end of the stated rental term. Other leases automatically renew at the end of the term. Automatic renewal clauses may be buried in a multi-page lease — review your lease carefully. If your lease has an automatic renewal clause:

  • You must give advance notice (often 30 days) of intent to move at the end of the term – check your lease for the amount of notice.
  • If you move without giving this notice, you may have to continue to pay rent until the required notice is given.
  • Where there is an automatic renewal clause, the landlord must also give the tenant advance written notice if he or she wants the tenant to leave at the end of the lease term rather than have the tenancy renew.
  • Monthly rent continues at the same rate unless the landlord gives proper notice of a rent increase. Rent increases are discussed below.


Roommates – Joint and Several Liability:

  • Landlords often require all tenants to sign one lease together. This creates “joint and several” liability.
  • Joint and several liability means that if one roommate does not pay his/her portion of the rent, the remaining roommate(s) will still be responsible for the full amount. If the full rent is not paid, the landlord may sue to evict all the tenants of the apartment.
  • While the remaining tenants may have recourse against the defaulting tenant, they cannot require the landlord to lower the rent.
  • If the landlord allows the tenants to sign individual leases, the “joint and several” rule does not apply.
  • However, landlords are not required to offer individual leases to co-tenants and may require them all to sign a single lease.


Co-Signers:

  • Landlords may require tenants to show financial ability.
  • If the tenant cannot meet these requirements, the landlord may allow a co-signer.
  • Co-signers are fully responsible for the rent and other financial obligations, whether or not they are living in the home.

 

 


5. Boarders:

Some landlords have tenants sign a rental document titled “Boarder Agreement.”  The distinction between tenants and boarders is important because boarders generally have less rights.  The definition of boarder in Prince George’s county is very narrow and the title of the rental agreement does not control.

 

6. Rent Control

Maryland does not have statewide rent control.  Individual counties may have their own rent control statutes, but Prince George’s county does not.  The City of College Park currently has a rent control statute in place for single family homes but not for apartments.  Maximum rent is based on a formula depending on market value and the law allows a landlord to apply for an exception.  For more information, contact the College Park Rent Stabilization Board.


7. Late Fees

 

    • Under Maryland law, landlords cannot charge more than 5% of the monthly rent as a late fee.
    • If the rent is paid within five days of its due date, landlords cannot impose the late fee.
    • Counties or municipalities may impose additional restrictions. In Prince Georges County, landlords may not charge more than 1% of the total monthly rental payment per day for each day the tenant is late, not to exceed 5% of the total monthly rent. If the rent is paid within five days of its due date, landlords cannot impose a late fee.

 

8. Security Deposits

 

  • Maryland has a detailed security deposit law found in the Real Property Code Section 8-203. Most county codes also have a provision regarding security deposits.  Prince George’s County’s security deposit law is found in Title 13 of the County Code.
  • The purpose of a security deposit is to protect the landlord against unpaid rent and against damages beyond ordinary wear and tear caused by the tenant.
  • Neither state nor local law define the term ordinary wear and tear.  The Montgomery County Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs publishes a handbook on ordinary wear and tear, including non-binding guidelines to help landlords and tenants understand the law.  There is no similar publication in Prince George’s County.  Students may want to review the Montgomery County handbook, however, to get a general understanding of the topic.
  • Tenant Rights- The security deposit law contains a list of tenant rights, which landlords must include in the written lease.  These rights include the right to a list of existing damages (upon request) at the time of moving in; the right to request (in writing) notice of and be present at any “move-out” inspection; the right to a written list of damages and itemized expenses for which monies are being withheld within 45 days of move-out; and the right to return of the deposit plus a small amount of interest (minus any rightfully withheld amounts) within 45 days of moving out.  Landlords who violate these rules may forfeit the right to keep any portion of the security deposit, even if the tenant in fact owes rent or caused damage.
  • Tenant Remedies – Under the security deposit law, tenants may bring a suit against the landlord in Maryland District Court once the 45 days for returning the deposit has passed.  Suits may include claims that the landlord forfeited the right to retain the deposit by violating the security deposit law, that the tenant denies causing the alleged damages for which monies were withheld, or that the tenant disputes the truth or reasonableness of the costs the landlord states were incurred.  Because of the amounts involved, security deposit suits are most often heard in small claims court and many students have successfully handled their cases without an attorney.
  • Demanding Return of the Deposit Before Bringing Suit:  In the ordinary case, there is no requirement that the tenant demand (orally or verbally) return of the deposit before filing a case in court.  However, if the tenant has breached the lease (for example by leaving early) — or if the landlord is likely to claim that the tenant did so — special rules apply.  To protect your security deposit rights, you must send your landlord a certified letter within 15 days of moving to request return of your deposit and to give a forwarding address.  Note that the statute requires notice by certified mail and does not provide that email will substitute.
  • BE AWARE: The Maryland Security Deposit Law provides that a tenant may sue a landlord for up to three times the wrongfully withheld amount. However, courts are not required to grant such punitive damages and usually do not do so unless the situation is especially egregious.

    9. Lawsuits for Non-Payment of Rent

     

  • Landlords may sue to evict tenants for unpaid rent.
  • Many apartment complexes automatically file suit on the sixth day after rent is due, although suit can be filed earlier.
  • Non-payment suits are generally heard within a week after the suit is filed.
  • If the court finds in the landlord’s favor, a judgment for eviction will be entered.
  • Once a judgment is issued, the eviction can only be carried out by the Sheriff. There is typically a backlog on evictions of at least several weeks in the Sheriff’s office.
  • Late payment judgments – like any judgment – can damage your credit rating.
  • Once a court judgment is entered, the tenant can still avoid eviction by paying the judgment in full before the Sheriff begins eviction proceedings. However, tenants who have had three prior non-payment actions against them may not redeem the premises and can be evicted.
  • Landlords who are renting without a required license will not be permitted to use non-payment actions to have tenants evicted.

Important: If you are sued and do not appear in court, a judgment for eviction may be entered against you.

To read the statute governing repossession suits for non-payment of rent, go to peoples-law.com or oag.state.md.us/consumer/landlords


10. Eviction for Breach of Lease

 

  • Landlords are legally entitled to terminate a lease early when the tenant has substantially breached material terms of the lease. Examples are illegal use of the premises, excessive noise, or other major violations, such as having extra occupants in violation of the lease.
  • If the tenant remedies the problem, ordinarily that will satisfy the landlord, but if the tenant does not remedy or if the violation is especially egregious, the landlord may file for eviction.
  • The court will decide if the tenant breached the lease and can be evicted.
  • These judgments can be appealed by either party within 10 days.
  • To seek an eviction order through the court, landlords must be able to show that they provided at least 30 days advance written notice of the alleged breach and of the landlord’s decision to terminate the tenancy early. In cases involving illegal drugs on the premises, the required notice is only 14 days.
  • The court will ultimately decide whether the tenant’s conduct was egregious enough to allow the landlord to terminate early.

If you have received a letter claiming breach of lease or requiring that you move before the end of your lease term, we encourage you to seek further information.

To read the state statute governing eviction for breach of lease suits, go to peoples-law.com or oag.state.md.us/consumer/landlords


11. Eviction of Tenant Who Does Not Leave at End of Lease Term (“Holding Over”)

 

  • Tenants who do not move as required at the end of a lease term may be sued for eviction, as long as the landlord has provided at least 30 days written notice in advance to vacate the property (or a longer period if required by the lease).
  • The landlord may not evict without a court order.
  • If the court finds the tenant wrongfully held over, the tenant may be liable for damages caused by the refusal to leave. To read the state “holding over” statute, go to http://www.peoples-law.org/housing/ltenant/legal%20info/holding%20without%20consent.htm


12. Tenant Rights When Rental Property is Sold or Foreclosed

 

Maryland law requires that landlords purchasing rental property honor existing leases.  Both the duration and the terms of the lease stay in place until the lease legally terminates or the parties make some other agreement.  Maryland has also enacted special protections for tenants who are living in homes that are going through foreclosure.  For a discussion of this topic, we recommend that you visit the People’s Law Library website.


13. How To Protect Your Credit Record When You Have A Dispute With Your Landlord

 

If you make late rental payments or your landlord obtains a money judgment against you, the information may be reported to one or more credit bureaus. Tenants frequently pay money they do not really believe they owe or make other concessions because they fear – for good reason – a bad credit report. In these situations, you may still be able to ask a court to find that the money should be returned. To learn more about credit issues, go to oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.


14. Breaking Your Lease – General Rules

 

Legally Binding Contract: Students do not have any special legal rights to break their leases. (If you are in the military and are reassigned, you may have the right to break your lease). Tenants in Prince George’s county have the right to request that the landlord accept a substitute tenant (subleasing) to complete the remainder of the lease term.  The tenant must obtain the landlord’s permission in writing.  If you live in other counties, you will want to investigate whether they have rules regarding subleasing rights.  Even if your county does not have a special subleasing law, it is generally presumed that a tenant can sublease as long as the landlord has not included a clause in the lease prohibiting it.

Financial Consequences: Tenants who move before the lease term ends may be responsible for continuing rent even though they are no longer living at the premises. However, the landlord has a legal obligation to mitigate damages. This means the landlord must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant and may not charge the old tenant continuing rent once the new tenant moves in. (The landlord is not necessarily required to rent out the unit “ahead” of others where there are vacancies in the building). The tenant is responsible for reasonable costs associated with finding a new tenant, such as advertising fees.

“Redecoration” or Termination Fees: Many apartment complexes and other landlords impose “redecoration” or “termination fee” clauses in the lease. These clauses typically allow the tenant to break the lease with 30 days notice and payment of a specified fee. The fee is usually substantial and often equal to two month’s rent. While such fees are not legally prohibited, a tenant may have a defense to payment of the fee or may choose to exercise a different option, such as finding a reasonable sublessee.

Constructive Eviction as a Defense: In some cases a tenant is legally justified in moving out early without financial penalty. Legal justification may exist, for example, where the landlord is renting the premises without a required license, has materially breached his/her obligations under the lease, or has made it unreasonable for the tenant to continue to live at the premises. These situations are referred to as “constructive eviction.” Each case must be evaluated on its own facts to determine whether a tenant may use “constructive eviction” to terminate early.


15.  Breaking Your Lease For Medical Reasons

Maryland law allows tenants with serious medical disabilities to terminate their leases early under narrow circumstances.  The tenant must have a doctor’s certification that the medical condition prevents the tenant from getting in and out of the rental premises or that the tenant needs to move elsewhere to obtain a higher level of care.  The tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the need to terminate the lease, and must include the medical certification.  The landlord can hold the tenant responsible for nor more than two months rent for termination of the lease under the medical disability statute.  By its terms, the statute does not apply where there is already a lease in place allowing early termination with 30 days advance notice and payment of a penalty fee equivalent to two months rent; in these cases, the landlord may choose to hold the tenant to these more stringent standards.

16.  Rights of Tenants Subject to Domestic or Sexual Violence

Maryland has several laws related to the rights of tenants who are the victims of domestic or sexual violence in their rental homes.  Tenants who have obtained protection or peace orders from the court may be entitled to have the landlord evict the abuser, change the locks, or allow the victimized tenant to break the lease early and move-out.  Tenants must provide the landlord with a copy of the court order.  Tenants who choose to move-out must provide 30 days written notice to the landlord and will be held responsible for rent for this 30-day period.

17. Subleases

 

The Prince George’s county code gives tenants the right to sublease their rental unit with written permission from the landlord.  The landlord may not refuse reasonable requests to sublease.   County law does not define “reasonableness” so each case must be evaluated individually.  If your Prince George’s county lease has a “no sublease” clause or if your landlord refuses a sublease request, you may want to seek legal assistance.  If your county does not have a similar subleasing law, you may still be able to sublease as long as your lease does not expressly prohibit it.

PLEASE NOTE: A sublease is different than termination of a lease. In a sublease, the original tenant remains liable to the landlord if the sublessee does not pay rent or fails to compensate the landlord for damages.


18. Noisy Neighbors

 

Noise problems involving neighbors are notoriously difficult to resolve.  If a tenant cannot resolve the problem directly with the neighbor, the landlord can be asked to intervene where the noise violates lease conditions or rises to an unreasonable level.  If the landlord does not cure the problem within a reasonable time, the tenant may have recourse against the landlord for breach of the lease.  As a general rule, tenants should put their concerns in writing and ask the landlord to see that the problem is corrected.  Note: If neighbors complain about your noise level, the landlord can give you notice to correct the problem. If you do not, the landlord might ultimately file for eviction and it will be up to the court to decide whether your conduct justifies termination of the lease.

 


19. Number of Tenants Allowed

 

Each county has separate regulations governing the number of tenants who may legally occupy a unit or home.  In Maryland occupancy is based on factors such as available square feet per person (not number of bedrooms). Landlords do not have to rent to the maximum allowable number of tenants, as long as restrictions are not based on illegal factors (e.g. discrimination against families with children).

The Prince George’s County Housing Code prohibits landlords from renting to more than five unrelated tenants (27-107.01 def. 85, 27-441 (b), see 6 in table). Operation of a Boarding or Rooming House). Landlords who violate the occupancy rule can be fined and required to come into compliance if their violation is discovered by housing inspection authorities. Tenants who live in such “illegal” rentals may have a legal option to leave early without financial penalty.


20. Landlord’s Obligation To Repair

 

Landlords must provide minimally safe housing and essential services such as heat and running water. Each county has its own housing code and standards may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Housing code violations can be reported to local housing inspection offices. These offices have authority to order repairs and to fine landlords for non-compliance, but do not have authority to reduce the tenant’s rent or direct the landlord to compensate the tenant directly.

Tenants facing serious health and safety violations may sue the landlord under state or local rent escrow laws. These laws allow the tenant to file suit to put the rent in escrow until the court decides the case. Possible remedies may include termination of the lease, rent reductions, or reimbursement to the tenant for repairs s/he directly makes.  Rent escrow can also be raised as a defense where tenants choose to withhold their rent and wait for the landlord to sue them for non-payment.   It generally is advisable to seek out further information about rent escrow before withholding your rent and before or before you file a rent escrow action.


21. Rent Escrow

 

Maryland law provides a procedure for tenants to seek a court remedy when the landlord has refused or failed to make repairs or there are unsafe conditions at the rental premises. Under the law, the tenant pays the monthly rent into a court fund until repairs are made or the court otherwise resolves the matter. This law is referred to as the Maryland Rent Escrow statute,

Who may use rent escrow law: The law applies to all single and multiple family residential dwelling units, both publicly and privately owned. However, some cities or counties have their own rent escrow laws that are used in place of the statewide statute. FOR LAWS SPECIFIC TO BALTIMORE CITY REFER TO PUBLIC LOCAL LAWS OF BALTIMORE CITY. FOR LAWS SPECIFIC TO BALTIMORE COUNTY REFER TO PUBLIC LOCAL LAWS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY

Tenants who cannot use rent escrow law: Tenants who have had three or more judgments for non-payment of rent entered against them may not use the rent escrow law affirmatively or as a defense.


Defects Covered by Rent Escrow Law:

The Rent Escrow law imposes an obligation on landlords to repair and eliminate conditions “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.” The statute states that such defects include but are not limited to lack of heat, light, electricity, or hot or cold running water, except where tenant is responsible for payment of utilities and the lack is the direct result of tenant’s failure to pay; lack of adequate sewage disposal facilities; rodent infestation in two or more dwelling units; any structural defect which presents a serious and substantial threat to the physical safety of the occupants; or any condition which is a health or fire hazard to the dwelling unit. In certain cases, the court may refuse to establish a rent escrow account where the case involves damages caused by the tenant.

Defects Not Covered By Rent Escrow Law:
The Rent Escrow law provides that “minor defects or non-dangerous violations of a local housing code are not covered by this law.” According to the statute, there is a rebuttable presumption that the following conditions, where they are not a serious and substantial threat to the life, health and safety of the occupants, are not covered: lack of fresh paint, rugs, carpets, paneling or other decorative amenities which only reduce the aesthetic value of the premises; small cracks in the walls, floors, or ceiling; lack of linoleum or tile on the floors, provided the floors are structurally sound and safe; or the absence of air-conditioning.

 

Initial Steps in the Rent Escrow Procedure:
The Rent Escrow law requires the tenant to notify the landlord of the defective condition(s) before the court escrow procedure can be used. Under the statute, notice to the landlord may be any one of the following: a written notice sent by certified mail, listing the dangerous condition or defect; actual notice of the defect or condition; or a written violation, condemnation, or other notice from an appropriate government agency identifying the condition or defect. Caution: it is ordinarily best to provide written notice or have a violation notice when possible, rather than to rely on having to prove that the landlord had “actual notice.”

After receipt of the notice, the landlord has a reasonable time to make repairs. The actual length of time considered reasonable is for the court to decide, taking into account the seriousness of the defect and the danger it presents to the occupants. Under the rent escrow law, there is a rebuttable presumption that a period of more than 30 days after receipt of notice is unreasonable.

If the landlord refuses to make repairs, or fails to make repairs within a reasonable time, the tenant may bring an action of rent escrow, asking to pay the rent into court. Alternatively, the statute provides that the tenant may withhold rent from the landlord, wait to be sued, and raise escrow conditions as a defense. We do not recommend that students withhold rent without consulting with our office or another legal provider first.

What Court May Order:
While the Rent Escrow law is most often used by tenants to obtain repairs, other remedies are available under the statute. The tenant may request any of the remedies provided by the law, whether the tenant uses the rent escrow law affirmatively or defensively. These may include but are not necessarily limited to termination of the lease, reduction of rent to an amount that fairly represents the condition of the premises, or an order requiring the landlord to make repairs.


Once a rent escrow account is established, the ultimate resolution of the case will depend on the individual facts, including how egregious the court finds the landlord’s conduct to be:

  • Ordinarily, the court will initially establish the rent escrow account but will not issue an order directing specific repairs. If the landlord does not correct the condition within 90 days after the court finds that the condition exists, the tenant may seek an injunction in District Court to order the landlord to correct the condition. In some situations – for example, where there are widespread health hazards in an apartment building or complex — the court may use the escrow funds to appoint a special administrator to have the repairs made.
  • Once the landlord makes repairs, the court will decide whether the escrow funds should be released in full to the landlord or whether the tenant should receive some or all of the funds instead.
  • If the landlord has not made a good faith effort to repair the defects within 6 months after the rent escrow was established, the court will release the escrow funds to the tenant. The tenant must continue to pay rent into court. However, if the landlord appeals the case, this forfeiture of escrow funds to tenant will be delayed.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: If the tenant does not regularly pay the rent into the escrow account, the court may order the accumulated money to be given to the landlord.


22. Crime on the Premises

 

As a general rule, Maryland law does not hold landlords legally responsible for crime in the neighborhood or even on the premises.  Being the victim of a crime of fearing that you may become one will not necessarily entitle you to break your lease early or to hold the landlord responsible for damages.  However, each case must be evaluated on its particular facts.  In some situations the landlord’s failure to provide minimally adequate security may be a sufficient basis for breaking the lease without financial penalty. In other cases, tenants may have a legal right to leave early because the landlord made knowingly false statements about the neighborhood’s safety. Tenants may also have an action for breach of lease where the landlord promised but did not deliver on safety features.


23. Landlord’s Access to Rental Units

 

State and county laws regulate a landlord’s right to enter the premises. Generally, tenants must be given 24 hours notice of the landlord’s intent to enter at reasonable times. Landlords may enter without notice in an emergency but must inform the tenant they have done so. These rules apply to apartments and to single family dwellings. Many apartment complexes give notice by a general posting or leaflets when a service, repair, or inspection is going to be made community-wide.  In Prince George’s county improper entry by the landlord may be grounds to terminate the lease. If you live in an owner-occupied rental, you should still have a reasonable right of privacy with respect to your individual quarters.


24. Discrimination in Rental Housing

State and federal law govern discrimination in rental housing on grounds including race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.  Anti-discrimination laws apply to a wide range of conduct.  For example, landlords may not refuse to rent for discriminatory reasons, may not impose more stringent application or credit requirements on prospective tenants for discriminatory reasons, may not impose different lease terms for discriminatory reasons, and may not treat tenants differently based on the listed discriminatory factors.  Housing discrimination complaints may be filed with federal and local fair housing agencies and other options may be available for tenants who believe they are the victims of discrimination.

25.  If you have a problem with a landlord

 

Tenants are free to let others know about problems at their rental premises or with the landlord — as long as you limit your comments to the truth.   You can rate apartments and make comments about them at websites such as apartmentratings.com., although these sites generally do not cover individual landlords renting out single family houses or just a few number of units.  Under state and local law, landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who make complaints to government agencies by raising the rent, trying to terminate the lease, or threatening to evict.  There is a presumption of retaliation for six months after a complaint to a government agency is made, but after that it can be difficult to prove that retaliation is still at work.

26.  Deceptive business practices

Maryland’s consumer protection law against deceptive business practices applies to rental housing.  Deceptive business practices include, among other things, making false or misleading statements about the rental property.  Statements covered under the deceptive business practices law may be implied as well as express, depending on the circumstances.  The state attorney general consumer protection office investigates complaints about deceptive business practices in rental housing.  The consumer protection law also may provide direct relief for the tenant, such as the right to terminate the lease or to obtain damages for the illegal practice.