The Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) protects “consumers” from several wrongful actions by “merchants,” including wrongful actions regarding “consumer realty.” The term consumer includes lessees (tenants are lessees) and the term merchants includes landlords. Consumer realty means real property that is primarily used for personal, household, family or agricultural purposes.
The MCPA states that a merchant may not engage in any “unfair or deceptive trade practice” when renting, selling, or offering to rent or sell consumer realty. These practices are illegal whether or not the tenant is actually deceived or tricked in any way.
An unfair or deceptive trade practice includes the following:
- A false or misleading oral or written statement, visual description, or other representation that has the capacity, tendency or effect of deceiving or misleading
- Representation that realty has a sponsorship, characteristic, or use that it does not have, or that it is of a particular standard, quality, or style that it is
- Failure to state a material fact if the failure deceives or tends to
- Use of a clause in a contract, including a lease, which waives the consumer's right to use a legal defense.
Examples are failure to disclose health and safety issues such as defective door locks and the lack of fire exits.
However, the MCPA’s protections are limited to only a violation that occurs during the establishment of the landlord/tenant relationship. Richwind Joint Venture v. Brunson, 645 A.2d 1147, 335 Md. 661 (1994). The court stated that at the time the lease is entered into, the landlord has superior knowledge. However, the tenant has superior knowledge while in exclusive possession of the leased premises.
A tenant (consumer) who believes to be a victim of an unfair or deceptive trade practice may file a complaint to get payment for losses resulting from the unfair or deceptive practice. In addition to this payment, a judge may award the tenant attorney’s fees if the tenant’s lawsuit is successful.