Residential Landlord – Tenant relationships aren’t always the easiest. The experienced attorneys from Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger outline procedures and provide suggestions as it pertains to dealing with a problematic tenant.
The Landlord/Tenant relationship stands in a unique position. When it works well, it can provide a safe and positive living space for a tenant and reliable source of income for the landlord. Conversely, when the landlord/tenant relationship does not work well, it can lead to a magnitude of problems.
If a Tenant has neglected to pay rent on time for several months, has continuously broke the terms of the Lease Agreement or intentionally damages property, it might be time to consider eviction. Terminating a Lease Agreement can be a smooth transition if you understand the process. There are specific steps you need to take to help avoid accusations of discrimination or constructive eviction by the Tenant.
TERMINATING A LEASE FOR FAILING TO PAY RENT
Successful Landlords will make specific repercussions very clear. If a Tenant fails to pay rent in a timely manner, is habitually late with his payments or has failed to pay rent, keep a log of all that has transpired. Document when rent notices are sent and when late payments were made (if any). Having an accurate accounting of Tenant transactions is essential should the Tenant contest the eviction.
First, determine whether your lease requires any sort of warning prior to commencing a rent action. It is not uncommon for residential leases to not require such a warning. However, if your lease requires a notice before taking action, the Landlord must comply with this requirement. Furthermore, if your lease has a grace period whereby rent can be paid before incurring a late charge, the Landlord would be wise to not file a rent action until that grace period has expired. The Courts may determine that the rent is not truly late until after the expiration of the grace period.
Giving the Tenant notice of breach of lease for failing to pay rent and a termination of the lease is not sufficient to afford the Landlord rights to evict the Tenant. In Maryland, self-help is not permitted in a residential setting. In order to evict the Tenant, the Landlord must file a Failure to Pay Rent action and obtain a Warrant of Restitution from the District Court. Moving the Tenants belongings out or turning off utilities without the requisite court orders is a recipe for disaster.
ENDING A LEASE DUE TO PROPERTY DAMAGE
If your Tenant destroys rental property and neglects to fix the damages, start documenting immediately. Be sure to note when the damage occurred and when you first noticed the damage.
Write down any police action that may have taken place and take photos of the property to document the extent of the damage. “Before” photos of your rental property are often a benefit to the Landlord. Typically, Landlords do a pre-tenancy walk through so that a list of existing conditions can be established before the Tenant moves in.
Once you have your documentation, a breach of lease action may be available against the Tenant. However, in order to prove a breach of lease action, the court must find three things:
- There is a breach of the lease
- The breach is a “material breach”
- The breach justifies the termination of the lease
In some cases, although the court finds the first two elements, they balk at finding the third, especially if this is the first violation of the lease. For example, the lease may contain a no pet clause. The court may determine that the existence of a pet in the rental unit is a material breach, they may not choose to exercise their right to terminate the lease but, instead, may warn the Tenant to remove the pet or be subject to further sanction by the court.
BREAKING THE LEASE FOR LACK OF FOLLOWING LEASE AGREEMENT
Rules and prohibited conduct should be clearly outlined in the rental agreement. Your lease should state specific behaviors that are not allowed and include what penalties will occur should those lease terms be broken. After an issue transpires, document what has happened, when it happened and how you responded. Real estate professionals recommend providing at least one warning before taking action to terminate the lease.
If the Tenant continuously breaches the lease terms after you have given ample warning, you may choose to terminate the lease. Your documentation can help protect you if the Tenant does not want to leave or attempts to fight the decision. If you have properly given notice to terminate the lease, a Tenant Holding Over action may be filed in the District Court. In these actions, it is often the case that the court focuses their attention on the procedure that was employed in terminating the lease rather than the underlying reason. Certainly, in cases involving discriminatory actions by Landlords, the court will not uphold the eviction. However, so long as the underlying reasons are legally enforceable, the court will often not pay particular attention to the nature of the violations so long as the notice is properly given.
CORDIALLY TERMINATING YOUR LEASE
You may deem it necessary to terminate your lease with your Tenant if they unexpectedly need to move. In this case, you may request that the current Tenant find a replacement Tenant to fulfill the remainder of the obligation and you may continue to hold the Tenant liable for any damages which occur, either to the premises or by way of lost revenue by their early termination of the lease. Landlord should pay particular attention to the rules regarding the retention of security deposits to cover unpaid rent or property damage.
Take the time to prepare a proper Lease Agreement that covers all potential issues. Document all problems and take photos to help minimize Tenant difficulties. Consulting an experienced attorney may help give you piece of mind that your Lease Agreement is legally sound. For more information regarding Landlord and Tenant issues, contact the experienced attorneys at Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helminger, P.A.