At JustAdvice®, an issue we often hear from clients is that a landlord has failed to return their security deposit or otherwise violated their rights in some way. Indeed disputes between tenants and landlords are fairly common: The Maryland Office of the Attorney General received almost 700 complaints about landlords in the past year. However, Maryland offers many protections for tenants in dealing with their landlord.[i] Below is some information about some common problems that tenants encounter and some resources to assist in handling these situations.
Failure to Make Repairs
Many people complain of health or safety issues in their apartment, which a landlord is refusing to fix (or delaying to fix). If such hazardous issues are not fixed by the landlord within six (6) months, a tenant may ask the court that their rent money be held in escrow until the landlord fixes the issues.[ii] The court even has the discretion to reduce the rent that is going into escrow. Some tenants have exercised their right to withhold rent when hazardous conditions are not repaired without going to court first. While the landlord may try to evict the tenant for not paying rent, a tenant is still entitled to have the court place the disputed rent in an escrow account. [iii]
Breaking a Lease
If you have to break your lease early (before the terms of the lease are up), you are generally still responsible for the rent for the remainder of the contract. While the landlord is expected to make an effort to find a replacement, you will still be responsible for any lost rent while the apartment is vacant or for the cost of advertising for a new tenant.[iv] If you plan on breaking a lease early, but have no other complaints about the accommodations, it may be helpful (for you and your landlord) to assist your landlord in finding a replacement tenant before moving out.
A security deposit cannot be more than two (2) months’ rent (or twice the monthly rent). In addition, the deposit must be held in an escrow account (so it cannot be spent), and if the deposit was for $50 or more, it has to be returned with 3% annual interest.[v]
In addition, the landlord must return the deposit (minus any money to cover damages or unpaid rent) within 45 days after you move out. While they can subtract for major damage or unpaid rent, landlords cannot keep a tenant’s deposit to cover normal wear and tear to the property, such as small holes in the wall left from hanging pictures. A landlord who keeps part of a tenant’s deposit must inform the tenant that they will be doing so within those 45 days and include a list of the damages and the cost of repairs.[vi]
Even if a tenant is evicted, the tenant may still recover at least some of the deposit. A renter may be evicted for failing to pay rent or damaging the property, but once the landlord pays for the damages, any remaining funds from the deposit must be returned to the tenant.[vii]
If a tenant believes a landlord has violated his or her rights with respect to his or her deposit, the tenant can sue the landlord for three times the amount of the original deposit. [viii]
The Maryland Attorney General website has a section that deals with landlord tenant rights and includes a list of ways to avoid disputes between landlords and tenants: http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.htm.
In addition, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., operates a hot line that answers tenant and landlord questions at (800) 487-6007.
The People’s Law Website offers a checklist of things to research before moving-in, which will help avoid conflicts later on: http://www.peoples-law.org/node/539.
Finally, the Maryland Courts have a webpage which offers extensive information, forms, and additional resources for tenants and landlord alike in Maryland: http://www.courts.state.md.us/district/forms/civil/dccv082tbr.html.
Please visit the above resources to assist you in any landlord-tenant issues you may be experiencing and feel free to schedule an appointment with JustAdvice® to further discuss your issue with an attorney.
[i] See Ambrose, Eileen, Knowing Your Rights in Disputed with Landlord, at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-09-23/business/bs-bz-ambrose-tenants-20110923_1_landlord-maryland-law-security-deposit.