The Eviction Process for Failures to Pay Rent

Landlords can evict the occupants of their property in a variety of ways.  Landlords can evict a tenant for holding over, breaching the lease, or failing to pay rent.  Landlords can also evict an occupant if the person is occupying the property without the landlord’s permission and there is no contract between the occupant and property owner and the property owner never accepted rent payment.

Landlords can evict a tenant that fails to pay their rent.  To evict a tenant that has failed to pay rent, a landlord must file a complaint with the court.  Failure to pay rent cases are heard five days after the complaint is filed.  After the complaint is filed with the court, the landlord needs to properly serve certain required documents to the tenant.  After the tenant is served with these documents, there will be hearing where each side can explain their story, after which the court will issue a ruling. 

Both the tenant and the landlord have four days to appeal a failure to pay rent decision.  If the tenant appeals the decision, the tenant can stay in the property until the appeal is heard.  However, in order to file an appeal, a tenant but must promise to the court in an affidavit that they are not appealing to delay the eviction and the tenant must pay a bond. 

If the tenant has not moved out after four days and the tenant has not filed an appeal, the landlord may file for a warrant of restitution, which tells the sheriff to help the landlord retain his property and allows the landlord to remove the defendant’s belongings from the property.  A landlord needs to request a warrant of restitution within 60 days of the court’s order in the failure to pay rent hearing, or the landlord will need to go to court again and receive another favorable order in a failure to pay rent case.

At any time before the tenant is actually evicted, the tenant can pay the landlord the amount of rent due.  If the tenant pays the entire amount of money that the landlord alleged in the complaint that was unpaid, the tenant is permitted to stay on the property and will not be evicted.  A tenant only has the right to catch up on rent after a judge has ruled for the landlord three times within a 12 month period, except in Baltimore City where the tenant can do so four times in a 12 month period.  If additional money becomes due to the landlord before the tenant is evicted, but the tenant pays the landlord the amount that was alleged in the complaint, the landlord will need to file a second complaint for a failure to pay rent in order to evict the tenant. 

As a defense for failing to pay rent, the tenant can allege that the landlord did not repair a defect to the house that posed a danger to human health or safety.  This defense strategy is most effective when the tenant gave the landlord at least one month’s notice prior to the hearing.  Examples of major safety issues include rats or mice, toilets that do not flush, a lack of heat, lead paint, and fire hazards.  If the court agrees with the tenant, the court can order the tenant to pay rent escrow to the court, order that the tenant owes a reduced amount of rent or no rent, or allow the tenant to break the lease.

To evict a tenant in any circumstance, a landlord needs to use legal channels. Landlords cannot lock a tenant out or force a tenant out by cutting off their utilities. Moreover, landlords cannot use an eviction proceeding to retaliate against a tenant for filing a complaint or lawsuit. 

If you need legal assistance in a failure to pay rent case, or in any other legal proceeding, contact the Law Office of Phillip E. Chalker at phillip@attorneychalker.com or (443) 961-7345.