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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Maryland

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Maryland can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Maryland.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated January 12, 2022

Struggling to pay your rent or find a place to live if your lease is about to expire is stressful. Getting an eviction notice from your landlord just adds to it. Knowing your rights and how the eviction process works can help. This article guides you through Maryland’s eviction protections and laws. 

If you’re a tenant or renter in Maryland who’s facing eviction threats from your landlord because you’re behind on rent or your lease is about to expire, this article can help you better understand your rights during the eviction process. 

What Is Eviction? 

Eviction is the legal process a landlord uses to remove a tenant from a rental property. The landlord must have a court order to evict a tenant. If your landlord tries to evict you without a court order, it’s considered an illegal eviction or illegal lockout. 

Who Can Be Evicted in Maryland?

To be evicted, you need to be part of a landlord-tenant relationship. A tenant is defined as someone who agrees to rent all or part of a landlord’s property. In Maryland, this agreement is often outlined in a residential lease. This is a contract between a landlord and a renter that allows the renter to live in the house or apartment. Maryland eviction law applies to anyone who enters into a written residential lease with a landlord.

Anyone living with a tenant can be evicted as well, even if they’re not listed on the lease. An example would be a housemate or a child in a family.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Maryland? 

In Maryland, you can be evicted if:

  • You’re short, late, or behind on rent. This is the most common reason for eviction.

  • You’ve breached a lease term. 

  • Your lease expires (and isn’t being renewed) but you don’t leave. This is called a tenant holding over.

The landlord is prohibited from evicting you for any other reason than those listed above or any outlined in your lease agreement. If the landlord tries to evict you for some other reason, you may have a claim for a “retaliatory eviction.” A retaliatory eviction occurs when a landlord brings eviction proceedings against you in response to a complaint you made against them. 

However, in Maryland, if a tenant abandons or leaves their home unsecured, the landlord can enter without the tenant’s permission and temporarily secure the property. This may include changing the locks. The landlord then has to notify the tenant that they have changed the locks and give the tenant an opportunity to re-enter the premises.  

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

If you’re even one day late paying your rent, your landlord can immediately send you a written notice giving you 10 days to make up the past-due rent. If you haven’t paid within 10 days, the landlord can file a Complaint for Failure to Pay Rent in court, which starts the eviction process.

If your landlord refuses to repair your home, you never want to withhold rent because this can be grounds for eviction. Instead, you should go to your district court and ask to file a rent escrow complaint. If approved, your rent will go into an escrow account until the court makes a decision. If the court finds the landlord failed to provide adequate living conditions as required by law, it may return the funds to you as compensation. If the court agrees repairs need to be made, the court may obligate you to use the funds to make the necessary repairs.

Other ways to win a nonpayment of rent eviction case include proving: 

  • Your landlord refused your payment of rent. 

  • Your landlord isn’t licensed under local law. 

  • Property conditions are unsafe.

A tenant’s rights attorney or a nonprofit legal aid group may be able to help you prepare your case for little or no cost.

Lease Expiration or Termination

In Maryland, tenants can be evicted after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired. In these cases, the landlord alleges that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property, regardless of the tenant’s status on paying rent.

If the lease expires and the tenant remains on the property without signing an extension or a new lease, they’re called a tenant holding over. Holding over is a reason for eviction. Your landlord must give you at least one month’s written notice before your lease ends if they don’t plan to renew the lease. 

A landlord may terminate your lease if you break part of the lease or violate the lease terms. The landlord must provide at least one months’ advance written notice that the lease will be terminated based on the violation. However, the landlord only has to provide you with 14 days’ notice if the violation or breach is a “clear and imminent danger.” In this case, the landlord will have to prove this was a danger by providing evidence. Illegal activity would qualify as a clear and imminent danger.

This 14-day eviction notice is called an unconditional quit notice because there’s nothing you can do to cure the violation. The landlord is entitled to have you out at the end of the notice date because you’ve been illegally violating lease terms or state law. The state’s attorney, county attorney, and community association also have the power to bring an eviction against a tenant if they are involved in illegal drug activities. 

The Maryland Eviction Process 

This is a basic overview of the residential eviction process in Maryland. 

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

The landlord must go to the district court to get a judgment against the tenant to evict them. First, the landlord will have to provide notice of the eviction proceedings. The amount of notice they must give varies based on the reason for the eviction.

  • For nonpayment of rent, the landlord must give the tenant a 10-day notice.

  • For lease expiration, the landlord has to serve the tenant with a notice to vacate, which is 30 days’ written notice that the landlord wants you to move out when your lease ends. If you stay past your lease expiration, the landlord has to prove they gave you 30 days’ notice. If the tenant doesn’t comply with the notice to vacate, the landlord can file a formal eviction lawsuit. 

  • For a breach of the lease that isn’t a clear and imminent danger, the landlord must give you one month’s advance written notice to end the lease. 

  • If there’s a breach of the lease that presents a “clear and imminent danger,” the landlord must give you a 14-day notice, but you don’t have a right to cure or fix the issue. 

In all cases, once the time period of the notice lapses, the landlord can file the eviction proceedings with the court. 

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

If your landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you, you’ll be served with an official summons to attend a hearing. Eviction cases are filed in the district court where the rental property is located. 

In Maryland, the summons can be served in person, by mail, or by a posting on your door. You don’t want to ignore the summons because it tells you the date and time you’re required to show up for the hearing to tell your side of the story. You’re only required to file an answer with the court if the eviction is for nonpayment of rent. 

If you fail to respond or show up to the hearing for nonpayment of rent eviction proceedings, you risk receiving a default judgment. A default judgment occurs when only one party shows up to the hearing. It means the other party — in this case, the landlord — wins by default. The hearing is your opportunity to voice your arguments against the landlord’s eviction claim. By not showing up, you lose that opportunity. 

Maryland courts provide mediation for landlords and tenants. This process can still be used even when the landlord files the eviction claim. The mediator is a neutral third party who helps you and the landlord communicate and come up with a solution to the dispute.  

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

In an eviction lawsuit, the tenant has the right to assert affirmative defenses and counterclaims. An affirmative defense is used to dispute the landlord’s claim against the tenant. When successfully raised, an affirmative defense can stop the eviction. A counterclaim is a separate claim the tenant brings against the landlord. It usually relates to the landlord violating their responsibilities. In Maryland, a tenant must submit all affirmative defenses and counterclaims in their answer. 

Affirmative defenses include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • You paid the rent in full — including late fees, interest, and court costs — to get the case dismissed. 

  • You cured the lease violation. Curing the lease violation means correcting the behavior that began the lawsuit. This can include fixing the damages you caused or disengaging in illegal activity. 

  • The landlord didn’t properly maintain the premises. 

  • The landlord failed to make necessary repairs and provided unsafe living conditions. 

  • The landlord violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against you.

  • Your landlord refused your payment of rent. 

  • Your landlord isn’t licensed under local law. 

Counterclaims may include: 

  • The landlord didn’t properly maintain the premises. 

  • The landlord failed to make necessary repairs or provided unsafe living conditions. 

  • The landlord violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against you.

  • Your landlord isn’t licensed under local law. 

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

Once the judge rules in the eviction case, the court will issue a judgment for either the landlord or tenant. If the landlord gets the judgment, they can file for a court order for the eviction within five business days. In Maryland, this is called a warrant of restitution. 

Remember, it’s illegal for a landlord to simply enter at any time and remove your belongings before this order is issued or without the sheriff's presence. You should call the police immediately and contact an attorney or legal services organization if something like this happens. 

Once the court issues a warrant of restitution, the sheriff oversees the eviction by coming to the rental property and ordering the tenant (and anyone else there) to leave. At the same time, the landlord (or landlord’s employees) removes all the property from the unit. Once the landlord or the employees place all property on a public right-of-way, it becomes the tenant’s responsibility to move. Some counties and cities in Maryland have different guidelines for the removal of property. 

As a tenant, you have the legal right to appeal an eviction judgment. If you file a notice for appeal, you’ll have a new trial in circuit court. With nonpayment of rent cases, you only have four days from the date of the judgment to appeal. You have 10 days to file your notice of appeal with breach of lease and holdover cases. Since you have to continue to pay the rent while waiting for the circuit court to decide on the appeal, you may have to post a bond to cover the rent. Posting a bond means paying money to the court.

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Maryland

If you can’t pay your rent, you should first try to talk to your landlord. They may be willing to delay payment or work out a partial payment plan. Make sure that any agreement you make with your landlord is in writing and is signed by both you and your landlord. If your landlord is unwilling to work out a payment plan, a local rental assistance program in your area may be able to help. 

If your landlord does file the eviction, here are some good tips to follow:

  • Ask your landlord if they’d be willing to drop the lawsuit against you and negotiate to resolve the situation or come up with a move-out date. Having an eviction on your rental history can prevent you from housing opportunities in the future. So even if you have to move out, if the landlord drops the eviction lawsuit, it’ll be easier to rent in the future.

  • Maryland courts provide mediation for landlords and tenants with a neutral third party, which is generally successful at resolving disputes about lease agreements. Be proactive about asking to go to mediation if you’re facing or worried about eviction.

  • If you need to go to court to fight the eviction lawsuit, gather any documents, photos, videos, and any other evidence that supports your claims, counterclaims, and defenses so that you have sufficient evidence to rebut the landlord’s arguments. 

  • If you’re providing evidence of poor maintenance of property conditions, it’s helpful to have a municipal building inspector visit the property to issue a report about its condition.

  • It’s important to always attend court even if you have made rent payments or cured the lease violation. Always contact the clerk of court if you can’t make an appearance for your hearing date or need an extension. The clerk will be able to change the date of your hearing so that you can attend and not risk a default judgment.

  • You should always keep track of all the rent payments, full or partial, that you make during the eviction process. If you happen to cure your default by making up all of your late payments, keep track of the timing of the payments and who you’re making the payments to — the court or the landlord. 

Tenant Resources in Maryland

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