A tenant in Maryland who is facing eviction because the tenant failed to pay rent or violated the lease or rental agreement may have at least one defense available.
This article will examine the most common grounds for eviction in Maryland and some of the defenses available.
The two most common reasons tenants are evicted are for failing to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement. When trying to evict a tenant for one of these reasons, a landlord must carefully follow the rules set forth in the Maryland statutes, which provide the rules and regulations landlords and tenants must follow when renting property within the state.
The most common reason tenants are evicted is because they do not pay rent. Unlike most states, a landlord in Maryland is not required to give a tenant any notice before the landlord begins eviction proceedings. This means that if the tenant does not pay rent the day it is due, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit the very next day. However, the tenant can stop the eviction by paying all rent due and owing, including late fees and any court costs, on or before the date of the hearing before the judge (see Md. Code Ann. [Real Prop.] § 8-401).
Another common reason for eviction is because the tenant violates the lease or rental agreement--for example, by having a dog when none are allowed or throwing loud parties during designated quiet hours. For an eviction based on a lease violation, a landlord is required to give the tenant notice before filing the eviction lawsuit with the court. If the tenant's lease violation can cause danger to themselves or to someone else on the property, the landlord is required to give the tenant a 14-day notice. For lease violations that do not cause harm to another person, the landlord is required to give the tenant a 30-day notice. Both types of notice must state that the tenant must fix the violation within the appropriate time frame or the landlord will file the eviction lawsuit with the court (see Md. Code Ann. [Real Prop.] § 8-402.1).
To begin the eviction lawsuit, a landlord must file a complaint and summons with the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. After the complaint and summons are filed, the tenant will receive a copy of the paperwork. The summons will have a date and time on it for a hearing before a judge. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must appear at the hearing. The judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and then make a final determination regarding the eviction. For more information on the process, visit the online Housing section of the Maryland Courts.
The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord's court and attorney's fees if unsuccessful in court. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
There are some defenses available to tenants who are facing eviction because of failure to pay rent or for violating the lease.
The only way a landlord can legally evict a tenant is by receiving permission from a judge in the form of a court order. It is unlawful for a landlord to try to evict a tenant through any other means, such as changing the locks on the doors or shutting off the utilities (see In re Promower, Inc., v. Scuderi, et al., 56 B.R. 619 (U.S. Bankruptcy Court, D. Maryland, 1986)). This type of an eviction is often referred to as a "self-help" eviction, and a tenant who is evicted with a "self-help" eviction can often sue the landlord for damages. For more information on this topic, see the Nolo article entitled Illegal Eviction Procedures in Maryland.
The rules for evictions are set forth in the Maryland statutes, and it is very important that a landlord carefully follow these rules when attempting to evict a tenant. For example, when evicting someone for a lease violation, the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice, as long as the violation is not harming any other person on the property. The landlord must wait the full 30 days before filing the eviction lawsuit with the courts. If the landlord files the eviction lawsuit before the 30-day time frame has ended, then the tenant can challenge the eviction based on lack of proper notice. The eviction would likely stop, and the landlord would have to give the tenant a new 30-day notice. At the end of the full 30 days, the landlord would need to file a new eviction lawsuit.
This type of defense does not completely stop a justified eviction, but it can give the tenant a little more time in the rental unit. As soon as the landlord fixes the deficient procedure, the eviction will proceed as normal.
If a landlord attempts to evict a tenant for not paying rent, the tenant may have a defense available.
If being evicted for failing to pay rent, a tenant has until the day of the eviction hearing to pay rent in full, including late fees, interest, and court costs. As long as the tenant pays everything due and owing to the landlord by the date of the hearing, the landlord must not continue with the eviction and the case will be closed (see Md. Code Ann. [Real Prop.] § 8-401(c)(5)). A tenant paying rent late like this should ask for a time-stamped receipt, which can be used as a defense in case the landlord continues with the eviction anyway.
Under Maryland law, a landlord is required to repair any conditions at a rental unit that could be a fire hazard or a serious threat to the life, health, or safety of the tenants. This means the landlord must:
If the rental unit needs repair in one of these areas, the tenant must provide written notice to the landlord stating the necessary repairs. If the landlord does not make the repairs within 30 days, the tenant has two options. The tenant can either stop paying rent altogether or pay rent into an escrow account held by the court, rather than pay rent directly to the landlord, until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. The tenant can also petition the court for a judgment against the landlord requiring the landlord to make the repairs.
If the landlord decides to evict the tenant for not paying rent, the tenant can defend against the eviction by showing that the landlord failed to make necessary repairs to the rental unit (see Md. Code Ann. [Real Prop.] § § 8-211 and8-211.1).
For more information on this topic, see the article Maryland Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent, published by Nolo.
As described above, a landlord is required to give a tenant either a 14- or 30-day notice if the tenant has violated the lease. The tenant will then have either 14 or 30 days to correct the lease violation before the landlord files the eviction lawsuit. If the tenant corrects the violation within the appropriate time frame, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (see Md. Code Ann. [Real Prop.] § 8-402.1(a)(1)(i)(3)). If the tenant fixes the violation but the landlord proceeds with the eviction anyway, the tenant can use proof that the violation was fixed as a defense to the eviction.
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. In addition, Maryland has also made it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on marital status, gender identification, or sexual orientation (see Md. Code Ann. [State Govt.] § 20-705)). If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Legal aid offices, such as Maryland Legal Aid, can provide free or low-cost legal help to those who qualify based on income. Maryland Legal Aid also publishes several brochures with housing information, available to all who have questions about landlord-tenant issues. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Eviction cases are typically filed in the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. To find information for your district court, visit the online directory maintained by the Maryland Courts. The Maryland Courts also maintain a helpful Housing section in their Legal Help section. This section has useful information about what to expect in court and the types of cases a landlord can bring against a tenant.
If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.
Also check out Nolo's Lawyer Directory for Maryland lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
For more articles on the subject, see the Evictions and Terminations section of Nolo.com.
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant's Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).