In order to evict a tenant from their residence, a landlord must first properly terminate the tenancy. Here, the landlord/tenant law attorneys at Snee, Lutche, Helmlinger & Spielberger examine the most common grounds for eviction in Maryland and some of the defenses available to tenants.
Common Reasons for Eviction
Failure to pay rent or violating a lease/rental agreement are the two most common ways a tenant becomes at risk for being evicted. However, there are strategies to avoid eviction.
Failure to Pay Rent
If a tenant does not pay rent when due as agreed upon in the lease agreement, a landlord may begin the eviction process by filing a “Failure to Pay Rent – Landlord’s Complaint for Repossession of Rented Property” form in the District Court. In order to avoid an eviction, the tenant must pay the outstanding rent in full, along with any late fees, court costs or attorney’s fees that were awarded, on or before the date of the scheduled eviction.
Breach of Lease
If a tenant violates a lease in any way, a landlord is required to provide the tenant notice before filing a “Complaint and Summons for a Tenant in Breach of Lease” with the court. The notice can be given 14 days prior to filing the Complaint if the violation(s) result in clear and imminent danger of serious harm. For lease violations that do not result in harm to another person, a landlord is required to give a tenant 30 days’ notice. Many leases also provide a cure period, during which time the tenant can fix the lease violation to avoid an eviction.
The Eviction Process
The eviction process begins with the landlord filing a complaint in the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. A copy of the complaint will be posted at the subject property and will contain the trial date, location, and time. If a tenant does not dispute the allegations contained within the complaint, a Judge will enter a judgment for possession of the premises in favor of the landlord. If the tenant chooses to challenge the complaint on the date of trial, a judge will hear from both sides, consider any evidence that is presented, and then proceed with a final judgment regarding possession of the property.
After the conclusion of any stay of execution issued by the court, the next step towards eviction is for the landlord to file a “Warrant of Restitution” with the court. Once the Warrant of Restitution is signed by a Judge, a copy will be sent to the landlord and the jurisdiction’s local law enforcement agency. The landlord then scheduled the eviction directly with the county’s Sheriff or Constable.
It is unlawful for a landlord to use any other means of eviction, such as changing the locks or shutting off utilities. This is known as a “self-help” eviction and is illegal in Maryland. A tenant may be able to sue for any damages caused by such actions.
In order to avoid an eviction, a tenant can pay the outstanding rent and fees on or before the date of the eviction, unless the court has issued a no right of redemption.
If hazardous conditions exist at the property and are the reason for the non-payment of rent, a tenant may file a Rent Escrow action, where the rent is paid into the court instead of to the landlord. The court will hold a hearing to decide whether the alleged hazardous conditions warrant a reduction or abatement of rent. A landlord is required to repair any conditions at a rental unit that could be hazardous to the tenant’s health.
If a breach of lease is asserted, the landlord is responsible for providing the tenant with notice of the lease termination as discussed above. If the tenant fixes the problem(s), the tenant may be able to defend against the eviction.
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, familial status or disability. 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.
How Qualified Attorneys at SLH Can Help
A landlord/tenant law attorney can prove to be a great asset when dealing with potentially complex cases such as an eviction. The landlord/tenant law attorneys at Snee, Lutche, Helmlinger & Spielberger believe that every renter deserves a safe and comfortable living environment. If you are having trouble with your landlord, contact us today.