Landlord and Tenant Issues
Rental agreements in Maryland, like in other states, are a well-regulated area of contractual law that provides protections for both landlords as well as tenants: for landlords it is more about protecting them from those who would not pay or damage their property, whereas for tenants it is more geared towards ensuring a minimal health and safety standard. With these purposes in mind, what are some of the laws as they relate to landlord and tenant issues?
One of the first issues that can come up are application fees and security deposits. In Maryland, a landlord can charge a fee of $25 or less, so long as they rent four units in one piece of property or more, and the lease application explains the obligations and rights if a fee is taken. This fee will typically go towards covering the costs of processing an application, such as for a background check.
A security deposit, meanwhile, is money paid to and held by the landlord to cover damage against the property, failure to pay rent or any expenses that may have been caused by a breach of the lease. While the landlord obviously has a strong stake in getting enough money in the deposit to cover any contingency, a landlord may not require a security deposit more than two months rent. If you are overcharged, you may recover as much as three times the amount over the value of two months rent, as well as any reasonable attorney fees.
Sometimes, problems arise with the conditions of the home: if they become bad enough they can become what is known as a lack of habitability. A lack of habitability occurs when the conditions of the home drop below certain minimum local housing code standards. In Maryland, this can include a lack of heat, light, electricity or hot water; inadequate sewage disposal; rodent infestation; structural defects that present a threat to the safety of occupants; fire hazards and many other conditions that would present a health or safety hazard.
Not only must the apartment be delivered in habitable condition, but also, should the apartment become inhabitable, the landlord must make repairs. If a tenant gives notice of a condition that is causing a lack of habitability and the landlord fails to do so after a reasonable time (typically around 30 days), the tenant may sue to rescind the contract and have the return of their deposit and any money spent on rent during the breach of habitability.
On some occasions it is simply impossible to stay in a lease, such as a marriage, death in the family or other life change that necessitates an immediate move. When this happens, a tenant is still bound by the lease and obligated to pay for the lease period. The landlord may find another tenant to take over the lease or begin a new one, however, if landlord cannot find a suitable replacement tenant they will not be required to accept an unsuitable one.
“Living in a metropolitan city like the DC Metro Area certainly has its pros and cons: unscrupulous landlords are a very strong con in any city you go to,” said Miguel Palmeiro of the Law Office of Miguel Palmeiro. “From the flagrant slum lord who is actively ignoring the legal and reasonable health and safety requests to the landlord who simply does not know what he or she is doing, it can very quickly make a good living situation turn into an unmanageable one.”
“It is very important to be an intelligent consumer in general, and this is doubly true when it involves your health and safety in your home. Everyone deserve a safe and clean environment to live, and when a landlord fails to provide this, you can take legal action. If you have any questions about your lease or the conditions of a home you are renting, please stop by for a free consultation: the advice is free, and often even a brief conversation with a knowledgeable attorney can provide a lot of clarity.”