A Guide to Tenant Rights in Maryland
Landlords and tenants in Maryland must become familiar with Maryland’s landlord-tenant laws. These laws spell out the specific rules and responsibilities both landlords and tenants must follow. Under Maryland law, tenants have a right to freedom from housing discrimination, a right to certain security deposit protections, the right to freedom from landlord retaliation, and the right to be protected after domestic violence. Learn four rights of tenants in Maryland.
Maryland Tenant’s Right to Fair Housing
The Maryland state government identifies fair housing practices in §§ 20-101;20-704;20-705 of the State Code. One right that every tenant is entitled to is the freedom from discrimination in any housing activity. In Maryland, tenants have a double layer of protection. If you would like to view the original text of Maryland’s landlord-tenant law, please consult Maryland Real Property Code Annotated, Title 8.
Federal Fair Housing Act
Maryland tenants are first protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. This Act, which was created in 1968, was meant to protect citizens across the United States from any type of unfair treatment when dealing with housing situations. The Federal Fair Housing Act specifically protects seven different classes of people. These classes are:
- Familial status
- National origin
Maryland’s Fair Housing Act
In addition to federal law, the state of Maryland has its own fair housing rules. These rules act as a supplement to federal law. The state of Maryland protects three additional classes of people. These are:
- Marital status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
What Rights Fair Housing Protects
Under the Fair Housing Law, landlords are prohibited from doing any of the following:
- Refusing to rent to a tenant because they belong to a certain class
- Trying to get a tenant to move because they belong to a certain class
- Posting a rental ad which states certain classes of people need not apply
- Having different lease terms because someone is a member of a certain class
- Charging higher rents or higher security deposits because someone is a member of a certain class
- Falsely stating that a unit has been rented to avoid renting to a tenant that belongs to a certain class
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations to a unit for a tenant with disabilities
Exemptions From Following Fair Housing Law
In Maryland, certain owner-occupants are exempt from following certain fair housing rules. The owner-occupant must either rent out rooms in a property that they currently occupy or rent out units in a property that has five or fewer rental units that they currently occupy to avoid following the state law. If the landlord meets either of these two requirements, the landlord does not have to follow the fair housing rules for the following classes of people:
- Gender identity
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
The landlord must still follow the fair housing rules for the following the federal guidelines that include, color, disability, family status, national origin, race, and religion.
Maryland Security Deposit Statutes
The Maryland state government addresses security deposits in §§ 8-203; 8-203.1 of the State Code. Tenants in Maryland have a right to be protected when they put down a security deposit in order to rent the property. They are protected in the amount that they put down, the way a landlord must store the deposit, required landlord walk-through, and the time frame for having the deposit returned.
Maximum Amount of Deposit
Maryland landlords are only legally allowed to collect up to two times the monthly rent as a security deposit. If the landlord collects more than that, it is illegal. A court could award the tenant as much as three times the amount that was collected in excess of two months’ rent.
Storing the Deposit
Landlords in Maryland must store tenants’ security deposits in a separate account that is only for security deposits. If the security deposit is more than fifty dollars, then the account must earn interest. The interest rate must be at least 3% per year.
Required Landlord Walk-Through
Maryland’s landlord-tenant law requires landlords to conduct a walk-through inspection. This inspection must take place within five days of tenant move out. The purpose of this inspection is to document the condition of the rental unit. The landlord must notify the tenant of the date the inspection will take place and of the tenant’s right to be present during the inspection.
Returning the Deposit
There are specific rules Maryland landlords must follow when returning a tenant’s security deposit. The tenant has the right to have their security deposit returned within 45 days of move out. The landlord must send this deposit by first class mail and must include whatever portion of the deposit that is owed back to the tenant.
If the landlord has taken any deductions from the deposit, then the landlord must also include a written itemized list when returning this deposit. This list must include the exact deductions that have been taken and the dollar amount for each deduction.
Tenant’s Right After Landlord Retaliation
The Maryland state government identifies specific rights in §§ 8-208.1, 8-208.2 of the State Code. It is not uncommon for landlords and tenant to have conflict. For this very reason, Maryland has a law which protects tenants in case a landlord tries to retaliate against them.
The following are common reasons that a landlord may retaliate against a tenant:
- The tenant or tenant’s agent provided written notice to the landlord or a government agency about a health or safety violation at the property.
- The tenant or tenant’s agent provided written notice to the landlord or a government agency about a violation of the lease.
- The tenant or tenant’s agent provided written notice to the landlord or a government agency about a violation of the law.
- The tenant or tenant’s agent has complained about a possible lead-based paint hazard at the property.
- The tenant or tenant’s agent filed a lawsuit against the landlord.
- The tenant testified in a lawsuit against the landlord.
- The tenant has organized a tenants’ union or participated in an existing tenants’ union.
Landlord Acts That Could Be Retaliation
The Maryland State Code sees increasing a tenant’s rent and decreasing services to the tenant as retaliatory actions. Other actions include the landlord threatening to evict the tenant—known as a retaliatory eviction—terminating a tenant’s lease agreement, harassing the tenant, and changing the locks on the tenant’s rental unit as retaliation.
When Can a Tenant Claim Retaliation?
A tenant can try to prove a landlord committed an act of retaliation when the landlord files to evict the tenant or when an action of the landlord causes damages for the tenant. In order for a court to even consider a landlord’s action to be retaliation, the landlord’s action must have occurred within six months of a tenant committing an action, such as filing a complaint against the landlord.
If a court comes to the conclusion that a landlord has performed a retaliatory action, then the court could award the tenant up to three months’ rent, plus reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.
If a court finds that a tenant’s claim of landlord retaliation has no merit, then the court could award the landlord up to three months’ rent, plus reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.
Terminating Leases After Domestic Violence
The Maryland state government addresses domestic violence in §§ 8-402, 8-5A-01 to 8-5A-06 of the State Code. Tenants who have been victims of domestic violence or victims of sexual assault have certain rights under Maryland law.
Tenants who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual assault have the right to terminate their lease agreement early without penalty. To terminate the lease, the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice, either by mail or by hand delivery, of their desire to terminate the lease.
With the written notice, the tenant must provide proof of their claim of domestic violence or sexual assault. This form of proof must include a copy of an order of protection. Victims of sexual assault must also include a copy of a peace order which has been issued to them.
The tenant will have 30 days after providing the written notice to terminate the lease to move out of the rental property. If the tenant fails to move out of the property within 30 days, the landlord has two options:
- Classify the tenant as a holdover tenant and take the appropriate steps to evict the tenant. The landlord could be awarded damages by the court for the tenant holdover.
- Assume the tenant no longer wants to move and reinstate the original lease terms.
The tenant is only responsible for paying rent for the 30 day period after they have given the written notice that they will terminate their lease.
Changing Locks After Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Maryland tenants who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual assault may have the right to have the locks on their unit changed. In order to do this, a couple of conditions must be met.
- The order of protection or peace order must state that the perpetrator does not have the right to enter the unit or must vacate the unit if they currently live there.
- The tenant must provide the landlord with written notice of their desire to have the locks changed.
- The tenant must provide proof of this written notice. This should either be a copy of an order of protection or peace order.
Time to Change Locks
The landlord must change the locks within one business day of receiving this written notice. The landlord must provide the tenant with the new key within 48 hours.
If the landlord does not, the tenant has the right to change the locks. The tenant would have to provide the landlord with the new key within one business day of having the locks changed.
Right to Charge a Fee
A landlord has the right to charge the tenant a reasonable fee for changing the locks. The tenant must pay this fee within 45 days of having the locks changed.
If the tenant fails to pay this fee within 45 days, the landlord can charge this fee as additional rent or can deduct this amount from the tenant’s security deposit.
Example of a Fair Housing Violation
A landlord has a vacancy at their rental property. The landlord places an online ad in an attempt to find a new tenant. In this ad, the landlord states that the building is located in a Christian community, so anyone who is not Christian should not apply. This is a discriminatory statement, and the landlord could be charged with violating the Fair Housing Act.