Landlord Tenant

How the Maryland Consumer Protection Act Protects Tenants

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.

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.

Tenant Holding Over Actions

A tenant holding over is an individual that continues to stay in a property after the lease is expired and without the landlord’s permission. If a tenant stays past the expiration of the lease, the landlord can sue the tenant for damages.  Damages include actual damages done to the property, loss of income because the landlord could not use the property for another purpose, and/or for failing to pay rent after the lease expired.  If a tenant holds over, a landlord has the right to evict the tenant or to hold the tenant to a new periodic tenancy.  If the landlord allows a tenant stay after the original lease has expired, a de facto month-to-month lease is created, unless the lease said something different, or if the terms of the lease were shorter than month-to-month.

To evict a tenant holding over, the landlord must give the tenant proper written notice to leave the property.  If the tenant does not leave, after written notice is received, the landlord can file a written compliant with the appropriate District Court.  After the complaint is filed with the court, the landlord will need to properly serve certain documents to the tenant.  If the tenant pays the landlord after they receive the notice or the served documents, the landlord can still evict the tenant, unless the landlord and tenant agree to something else in writing. 

When before court, both the landlord and the tenant will have the time to explain their side of the story and why or why not the tenant should be evicted.  If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant will have to leave the property within four days and may be required to pay the landlord’s cost for filing the suit.  (If the tenant has a doctor’s note saying that it is dangerous to leave, the tenant can have up to 15 days before they have to leave the property. If the property is in Baltimore City, and the tenant has a doctor’s note, there is no time limit by which the tenant has to leave.)  If the tenant has not moved out after the prescribed time, the landlord may request a warrant of restitution.  A warrant of restitution 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 for eviction, or the landlord will need to go to court again to receive another order for eviction.

Either party can appeal the court’s decision.  If the tenant appeals the decision, the tenant can stay in the house until the appeal is heard.  As part of the tenants appeal, the tenant must promise to the court in an affidavit that he or she is not appealing to delay the eviction and the tenant must also pay a bond to the court.  The bond helps ensure that the tenant will diligently handle the appeal and pay any damages, including overdue rent and court costs, to the landlord for the duration that the tenant occupies the property. Tenants have ten days to file an appeal in a tenant holding over action. 

If you need help with a tenant holding over case or any other landlord tenant action, contact the Law Office of Phillip E. Chalker at phillip@attorneychalker.com or (443) 961-7345.