Tenants in Maryland are protected by federal and state laws, as well as any terms they are able to negotiate as part of their rental or lease contract. Some counties and cities also have their own laws that increase tenants' protections.
Federal Fair Housing Law
Federal housing laws apply in every state, including Maryland. They generally set a threshold for protection that states can increase, but cannot decrease. The Federal Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination in housing. Complaints should be filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online or by phone.
Under the federal law, landlords may not discriminate against potential tenants. They may not make a rental decision or set rental conditions on the basis of:
- Familial status
For renters with disabilities, the federal Fair Housing Law also requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations, but they do not have to make accommodations that would require an expensive remodel.
Maryland Exemptions to Fair Housing
Under Maryland law, some landlords who owner-occupy the property have more choices about who they rent to. This applies to an owner who rents rooms in their home or in a building with five or less rental units, of which they occupy at least one. They are exempted from state fair housing rules for the following classes of people:
- Gender identity
- Marital status
- Sexual identity
Even small, owner-occupying landlords must respect the remaining classes under the anti-discrimination laws.
Maryland Rental Contract Laws
Maryland law recognizes the validity of a rental agreement whether or not it is written. It is always easier to enforce rights under a written agreement however, since the terms are spelled out in black and white. Landlords cannot rely on oral agreements if the term of the lease term is 12 months or longer or the landlord has five or more rental properties.
A tenant in Maryland has the right to occupy the physical premises at the beginning of the rental term. If possession is delayed, the tenant can cancel the contract, prorate the rent or sue for damages.
Under Maryland statutes Title 12 Subtitle 2 Section 12-203, tenants who enter into any rental agreement are granted certain rights, whether or not those rights are actually spelled out in the contract. One of those rights is the right to a safe and livable dwelling, also known as the implied covenant of habitability; another is the implied right to quiet enjoyment.
Implied Right to Habitability
Like many states, Maryland implies into every rental contract the rule that the landlord must provide a habitable dwelling and make all requested repairs necessary to keep it habitable. Under Maryland law, these areas of the rental unit must be habitable:
- Structure of the unit must be sound.
- Heating and cooling system must be functional.
- Plumbing and sanitation must be functional.
- Electrical outlets and plugs must be up to code.
- Fire exits must be accessible.
- Unit must be free of bed bugs.
If a tenant lets a landlord know about some condition that impacts the habitability of the unit, the landlord must fix it within a “reasonable” time frame, generally interpreted as 30 days.
Repairing Serious Defects
Under Maryland law, if a landlord fails to repair serious or dangerous defects in a rental unit, the tenant has the right to pay rent into an escrow account established at the local district court. Unlike in some states, Maryland tenants do not have the right to withhold rent or use a repair-and-deduct option.
The tenant can place rent in escrow with the district court in certain circumstances, including but not limited to:
- Tenant must give the landlord proper notice and adequate time to make repairs.
- Escrow account must be set up by the court, not the tenant.
- Damage must constitute a serious or dangerous condition, such as lack of heat, electricity, water, sewage disposal, extended rodent infestation, lead-based paint hazards, structural defects, fire or health hazard.
Implied Right to Quiet Enjoyment
In Maryland, a tenant is protected by the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment of the premises. This covenant means that a tenant cannot be subjected to undue disturbances that could impact their enjoyment of the premises. This comes into play most often when a landlord intrudes into the unit frequently or without notice.
But the right to quiet enjoyment in Maryland goes further. A long-term maintenance issue, like a leaking roof, could constitute a breach of the covenant. Also, Maryland landlords must also make sure that one tenant does not unduly disturb another tenant. A tenant may be able to void their lease and sue for moving expenses if this covenant is violated.
Duty to Maintain Common Areas
In Maryland, courts have ruled that the landlord has a responsibility to use reasonable diligence and ordinary care to keep the common area portion of the premises in reasonably safe condition. This rule applies both to repair of building defects and to protection against criminal activities in those areas.
In one Maryland case, a tenant was murdered in the underground parking garage of the Maryland apartment building where they lived. The court ruled that the landlord had a duty to exercise reasonable care for the tenant's safety, which would depend on the landlord's being aware of the extent of criminal activity on the premises.
The court stated that once the landlord is aware of the activity in the common areas, they must take action to eliminate the conditions contributing to that activity. A Maryland landlord is held responsible if they fail to act, and this failure to protect the tenant's security increases the likelihood of the criminal activity.
Maryland Security Deposit Laws
One of the most contentious issues between landlords and tenants is the return of security deposits. In Maryland, security deposit issues are addressed at some length in the state laws.
Tenants in Maryland have some legal protections when it comes to security deposits. The amount of the deposit is limited to two times the monthly rent that the tenant will pay. For example, a tenant whose monthly rent is $2,000 cannot be charged a security deposit greater than $4,000. If a landlord charges more, a court can award damages of up to three times the excess amount.
Landlords in Maryland cannot spend the tenants’ security deposits or put them into their own personal accounts. They must place them in a separate account that is only for security deposits, and every deposit over $50 must earn at least 3 percent interest per year for tenancies begun in or before 2015; 1.5 percent for more recent rentals.
Return of Maryland Security Deposit
One issue that arises between landlords and tenants involves the condition of the unit on move-out. The tenant thinks it's clean, but the landlord charges a cleaning fee.
Maryland’s landlord-tenant law mandates a walk-through inspection. This is a time when the landlord walks through the unit with the tenant to inspect the condition. In Maryland, this must occur within five days of the tenant's move-out day. During the walk-through, the landlord must identify issues that could cause the retention of the deposit so that the tenant has a chance to fix them.
The landlord must return the security deposit plus interest to the tenant within 45 days of the day the tenant vacates the premises. The landlord must send the deposit by first-class mail. If the landlord has retained part of the deposit, they must include a written itemized list with the exact reason for the deductions that have been taken and the dollar amount for each deduction.
Withholding of Security Deposit
Landlords can only withhold sums for unpaid rent or damages in excess of ordinary wear and tear. This is defined in Maryland as "wear which the property undergoes when tenant does nothing more than to come and go and perform acts usually incident to an ordinary way of life."
Maryland landlords cannot retain a tenant's security deposit to pay for paint touch-ups and carpet replacements needed due to normal wear and tear.
Tenant Right to Sublease
Maryland tenants have the right to sublet their units unless the terms of the rental agreement require landlord approval. To sublease or sublet a rented dwelling means that the original tenant assigns a temporary right to occupy the premises to another person for a specific period of time.
If the rental agreement is silent as to landlord consent, the tenant has the right to sublease to any third party. If the lease does require the landlord's consent to sublet, any refusal on the landlord's part must be based on a reasonable and legitimate reason.
Rent Increases in Maryland
The primary reason that Maryland is considered a landlord state is that Maryland state laws do not restrict or limit rental amounts or rent increases. Cities have the right to enact rent-control laws, but only one has done so. That is Takoma Park.
When a tenant signs a lease, rent raises are not an issue since the lease specifies the monthly amount to be paid, and this cannot be changed unilaterally by the landlord. However, many tenancies are month-to-month.
That means that tenants pay rent in advance for the right to dwell in the unit for the coming month. There is no rent protection for these tenants, and Maryland landlords can raise their rents with 30 days' notice.
Renewal of Lease Agreements
Landlords can raise rents when a lease term ends. If a tenant wants to continue renting at the end of the lease term, they should find out whether the terms of the lease will change.
If a lease has an automatic renewal clause, the landlord must notify the tenant of any changes to the renewed lease, including any rent increase, soon enough for the tenant to decide whether they wish to renew. If a lease does not automatically renew, it's critical for the tenant to read the new lease carefully before signing.
Eviction Process in Maryland
One of the very worst ways for a tenancy to end in Maryland, or in any other state, is with an eviction. Eviction is through a court procedure when the landlord ends the tenancy and forces the tenant out. Self-help, like tossing a tenant's property on the sidewalk or changing the locks, are not permitted.
In Maryland, a landlord has the right to evict a tenant for:
- Nonpayment of rent: This can be filed the day after the rent is due.
- Failure to move out when the lease has ended: Only if the landlord gave the tenant written notice at least one month before the lease termination.
- Breach of lease: When a tenant breaks an important part of the rental agreement such as bringing in a pet when the lease contains a no-pet clause. The landlord must give the tenant one-month written notice of ending the lease.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.