What’s the deal with evictions in Maryland?
Let’s face it, eviction is unpleasant. But for property managers and landlords, it’s a necessary legal tool when tenants don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Criminal activity, illicit drugs, late rent payments, nonpayment of rent, physical damage — these are some of the reasons why a landlord may evict a tenant under Maryland state law.
Frustration with troublesome tenants has prompted many landlords to install new locks, shut off utilities, and kick tenants’ belongings to the curb. In 2012 alone, landlords locked more than 300 families out of their homes. These “self-help evictions” are illegal in Maryland — but as one Baltimore couple discovered, there are exceptions.
As the couple scrambled to move out of their rented home, their landlords changed the locks, leaving the husband and wife homeless. Even though Maryland law states that self-help evictions are illegal, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the landlords, based on a law of English origin dating back to 1381.
Despite this 600-year-old obscurity, Maryland typically comes down hard on landlords who practice self-help evictions, so it’s not a good idea to take the law into your own hands. The office of the state’s attorney general says that landlords who self-help evict “without a court order may be criminally prosecuted and liable for damages.”
What are some reasons I can evict a tenant?
Reasons for evictions fall into three major categories: non-payment of rent, “holding over,” and breach of lease.
- There is no grace period for nonpayment, so eviction can begin the day after the rent is due.
Holding Over Eviction
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- “Holding over” refers to when tenants continue to live at a property after the lease has ended.
Breach of Lease Eviction
- Landlords can evict tenants who have violated some part of the lease, for example, by allowing people not listed in the lease to live at the property or by engaging in criminal activity within the home.
Are there situations in which I cannot evict a tenant?
- Landlords cannot use self-help evictions to remove tenants. Despite the 600-year-old law under dispute, Maryland eviction law considers the practice illegal.
- Tenants can’t be evicted as a form of retaliation. If a tenant organizes or joins a tenant board, or files a complaint or lawsuit against a landlord, the landlord can’t respond by evicting the tenant, raising the rent, or decreasing services promised in the lease. Additionally, sections of the retaliatory eviction laws in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Montgomery County may apply when they provide stronger tenant protections than those of Maryland state eviction law.
What is the process normally like?
In Maryland, a legal eviction requires a landlord to go to district court to obtain an eviction order against a tenant. When a landlord-tenant dispute enters the realm of law, however, it will cost time and money, not to mention aggravation, so it’s a good idea to try working out issues with the tenant first.
- File a complaint against the tenant in district court. The process for evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent is called summary ejectment. The first step is to file a written complaint in the district court located in the same county as the rental property.
- The court issues a summons for a trial. At the instruction of the court, the county sheriff sends a summons to the tenant by first-class mail or delivering it in person. Trials are held on the fifth day after the landlord lodges the complaint.
- The judge rules on whether an eviction is warranted. Both landlord and tenant are allowed to state their cases before a judge. Either party may be represented in court by someone who is not an attorney, but only if the representative is a law student supervised by an in-court faculty member of the law school or is employed by certain nonprofit organizations.
- If the judge rules the tenant should be evicted, the tenant has 4 days to leave the home with their belongings. If the tenant doesn’t vacate within 4 days, the landlord has 60 days to ask the court for a warrant of restitution. This order instructs the sheriff to appear at the property and allow the landlord to evict the tenants and their belongings. Warrants of restitution expire 60 days after they’re issued.
- Tenants can request additional time to stay at the property. The judge may grant an extension if the tenant produces a signed certificate from a doctor stating that moving within 4 days could harm the tenant’s health or life (or that of another occupant). Day-to-day extensions also may be granted when extreme weather would affect the eviction. Tenants also have the right to appeal evictions within 4 days of when the warrant of restitution is issued.
- “The right of redemption” allows tenants who have been issued a summary ejectment (eviction for nonpayment of rent) if they pay “all past due rent and late fees, plus court-awarded costs and fees at any time before the actual carrying out of the eviction order.” If, within the previous year, there were 3 or more judgments against the tenant for nonpayment, they forfeit their right of redemption.
The city of Baltimore differs from the rest of Maryland when it comes to handling evictions.
Baltimore handles evictions differently, likely because of the dynamics of a large, populous city. These differences include:
- Leases in Baltimore are assumed to include “warranty of fitness for habituation,” which means that the rental unit must be fit for a person to live in. Conditions that threaten the lives, health, or safety of occupants include those that involve “vermin or rodent infestation in two or more units, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity.” The warranty doesn’t cover situations in which the tenants cause the unfit living conditions, including problems resulting from unpaid utilities when the lease states the tenants are responsible for paying for them. In cases of nonpayment of rent, if the tenant can prove the landlord violated the warranty of fitness of habituation, the court may rule in the tenant’s favor.
- If a tenant can prove the landlord has breached the lease in certain areas, the court may stop an eviction in process. These breaches include, but aren’t limited to, lack of:
- Functional and sufficient laundry, cooking, or dishwashing facilities
- Functional refrigeration or air conditioning
- Proper maintenance
- Specified recreational facilities
- Retaliatory evictions in Baltimore, like in the rest of Maryland, are illegal. The city adds an extra provision stating that a landlord can’t evict tenants who seek legal counsel to help them in a landlord-tenant dispute.
- Baltimore city law provides for a different penalty for self evictions. If the court rules in the tenant’s favor, the landlord may be subject to “a fine not exceeding $500 and imprisonment of not more than 10 days or both for each and every offense.”
- Additionally, the city of Baltimore has special laws that affect evictions that cover areas such as:
- Certain situations in which tenants and landlords can terminate a lease earlier than stated in the lease
- Death of a tenant and the rights of remaining occupants in the unit
- Smoke detectors
- Rental units in flood plains
- Rooming houses and units
Where can I learn more?
If you have any questions, or think you may want to start the eviction process with a tenant in Maryland, please consult a lawyer.
- Office of the Maryland Attorney General
- The People’s Law Library of Maryland
- NOLO Maryland Illegal Eviction Procedures
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Disclaimer: The materials on this database provide general information related to the law and are intended to provide a layman’s summary of the law. The information provided does not constitute legal advice and the manager of this database is not a law firm. These materials are intended, but cannot be promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date. All of the information offered are intended for general informational purposes only. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained on this database without first seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.