Whether you pay rent to live in your landlord’s home, or rent out your own home to tenants, regulations exist to protect both the landlord and the tenant in the state of Maryland. When the lease is signed, the property owner and the renter enter into an agreement that can be as complicated as it is crucial — after all, what is more important than your own home?
Unfortunately, common misunderstandings or negligent actions on the part of either party can lead to awkward conversations — or worse, a court date. If you’ve found yourself involved in a landlord-tenant dispute, you may need an attorney to get the best outcome for you.
What are my rights as a tenant?
Renters in the state of Maryland can expect certain protections under the law.
According to Maryland law, landlords must promise “that the premises will be available in a reasonably safe, habitable condition; or, if that is not the agreement, a statement concerning the condition of the premises. The lease must also specify the landlord’s and the tenant’s obligations as to heat, gas, electricity, water, and repair of the premises.” When you enter into a lease, you are agreeing to uphold the terms of the rental contract, and your landlord agrees to maintain his or her end of the bargain.
Renters are also protected from something called landlord retaliation. For example, if you join a renter’s union or file a lawsuit against your landlord, it’s illegal for your landlord to respond by hiking up your monthly rent, evicting you, or refusing to repair your dishwasher.
There are also rules surrounding security deposits that both landlords and tenants should be aware of. For instance, how much can a landlord require for a security deposit? Can a landlord withhold a security deposit?
What happens if my landlord doesn’t keep up his or her end of the deal? Can I stop paying my rent?
In general, if your landlord neglects to make repairs that put you and your family in serious danger — like having no heat during the winter — you have the right to initiate a rent escrow action. You have to give your landlord formal notice and enough time to fix the problems in your rental home, and you can’t simply stop paying your rent — you have to deposit it into a District Court-established escrow account while you go through court proceedings.
This is not the standard across ALL of Maryland. Baltimore City, for example, has its own set of escrow laws that you must follow. If you’re unsure whether you have the legal right to withhold your rent, you should contact an attorney barred in the state of Maryland to discuss your options.
What happens if I break my lease early?
In many cases, that’s between you and your landlord. If you know in advance that you may not be able to commit to a typical year-long lease (because you’re in the military, getting married, searching for a job in another state, etc.) it may be wise to add a lease break clause to your rental agreement outlining the special circumstances that would allow you to end your term early.
Under Maryland law, the tenant is responsible for the rent throughout the term of the lease. So if you move out three months early, you’re responsible for paying for those three months unless the landlord finds a new tenant. If a new renter moves in a week after you move out, you’re only responsible for that week of lost rent. Similarly, if your old apartment sits empty for five months after you move out, you’re only responsible for the months that were on your original lease term, not any time after.
I’m a landlord — do I get the same rights?
Yes! The same laws that protect tenants protect property owners. Your renters have a legal obligation to uphold the terms of their lease, maintain a safe and habitable environment, and pay rent through the whole of their lease term. If you have a tenant who has broken the terms of your lease and is fighting eviction, it may be time to seek legal counsel.
When can someone be evicted?
According to Maryland law, a landlord can evict a tenant for:
- Nonpayment of rent, beginning as soon as the due date has passed and the rent is unpaid.
- “Holding over,” or not moving out after the lease has ended.
- Violating the terms of the lease agreement in some way, such as causing serious damage to the property, or having more people living in your home than your lease allows.
If you’re involved in a landlord-tenant dispute, it’s important to have qualified legal representation. Our lawyers are barred in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, and will fight for you to ensure you get the best possible outcome.