COVID-19 Information Update
The Baltimore City COVID-19 Renter Relief Act prohibits rent increases for existing tenants during the health emergency declared by the Governor on March 5, 2020 (as amended or extended by the Governor). Landlords may not notify existing tenants of rent increases during this emergency and for the 90-day period after the state of emergency is lifted. Fees for late payment or non payment of rent are also prohibited during the emergency or within 90 days after the expiration of the emergency. The Act only applies to existing tenants and does not apply to leases for new tenants. Read the Ordinance.
Topics on this page:
- Written Leases
- Warranty of Fitness for Human Habitation
- Retaliatory Actions
- Failure to Pay Rent
- Tenant Defenses for Failure to Pay Rent
- Termination of Tenancy by Tenant
- Termination of Tenancy by Landlord
- Tenant Holding Over Without Consent
- Death of Tenant
- Penalty for Misrepresentation, Diminishing Essential Services, or Lock Out
- Smoke Detectors
- Rental Units in Floodplain Districts
- Required Registration and Licensing of Unit
- Housing Code Violations
Landlord Must Provide Tenant with a Copy of the Lease
At the time of the lease signing, the landlord must give the tenant a copy of the lease signed by both the tenant and landlord. The lease must include the following contact information:
- The name of the property owner and either their residence address and telephone number or their business address and telephone number; or
- The name of the person who has been designated by the property owner to be their agent or managing operator of the property, and either their residence address and telephone number or their business address and telephone number.
Any owner who is not customarily present in an office in the metropolitan Baltimore area must include the information of a managing agent in a lease.
The property owner must notify the tenant of any contact information changes by first class mail within 10 days.
Compliance, Enforcement and Penalties
The property owner is primarily responsibility for compliance with this law. Because of that, a tenant has to right to ask a court to prevent or stop a property owner’s violation of the law. A property owner who violates a provision of this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of up to $100 for each violation.
None of these provisions apply to:
- Rental units in hotels, motels, inns, tourist homes, and rooming and boarding houses that are rented primarily to transient guests for less than 14 days;
- Rental units in a hospital, convent, monastery, extended medical care facility, asylum, non-profit home for the aged, or dormitory owned and operated by an institution of higher education;
- Individual rental units that a government agency owns, operates or manages; and
- Rental units within the premises occupied by the owner as his or her residence.
When a Tenant Takes Occupancy
In any written or oral residential lease, the landlord is presumed to promise (or “warrant”) that the rented dwelling is "fit for human habitation". This means that the premises must not have any conditions that endanger the life, health and safety of the tenants, including, but not limited to vermin or rodent infestation, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity. The provisions of this law cannot be waived by any written or oral lease.
If the dwelling is not fit for human habitation upon occupancy, the tenant must first notify the landlord of the dangerous condition. The notice must be by one of the following methods:
- A violation notice from the Department of Housing and Community Development or other government agency;
- A letter sent by certified mail to the landlord; or
- Actual notice of the defect or condition.
After notifying the landlord, the tenant may exercise the following remedies within the first 30 days of occupancy:
- Tenant may bring an action against the landlord for breach of contract, which may include a request for actual damages suffered by tenant; and/or
- Tenant may bring an action to rescind (cancel) the lease and request a return of all deposits and money paid toward rent during the period of the breach of warranty.
The tenant may also use any other remedies available under law, such as rent escrow.
If the tenant, a member of his or her family, the tenant’s agent or the tenant’s guest acts in bad faith and refuses entry to the landlord or the landlord’s agent who are trying to repairing the condition, the court will order the tenant to pay landlord's court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. The court will also require the tenant to pay for the repairs if the dangerous condition was caused by the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family, the tenant’s agent or the tenant’s guest.
During the Term of the Lease
The warranty of habitability is a continuing warranty and the tenant may pursue legal action for breach of this warranty at any time during the tenancy if the dwelling becomes unfit for human habitation. The tenant may also use breach of this warranty as a defense in an action of summary ejectment or distress for rent.
"Fit for human habitation" means the premises shall not have any conditions which endanger the life, health and safety of the tenants involving vermin or rodent infestation in two or more units, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity, except where:
- The tenant is responsible for payment of the water and electric charges; and
- The lack of water or electricity is the direct result of the tenant’s failure to pay the water and electric charges.
The tenant will be required to pay for the repairs (collected as rent) if the dangerous condition was caused by the tenant, a member of his or her family, or visitors.
If the dwelling becomes unfit for human habitation, the tenant must first notify the landlord of the dangerous condition before tenant sues the landlord for breach of warranty. The notice must be by one of the following methods:
- A violation notice from the Department of Housing and Community Development or other government agency;
- A letter sent by certified mail to the landlord; or
- Actual notice of the defect or condition.
The landlord has a “reasonable time” after notification to repair the defect or damage alleged by the tenant (repairs must be made with “diligence and without culpable delay” and more than 30 days is presumed unreasonable). Once the landlord finished the repairs, they must notify the tenant or the Department of Housing and Community Development in writing.
If tenant sues the landlord or defends him or herself in a case brought by the landlord and is successful, the amount of money s/he recovers will be computed as of the date of landlord's actual knowledge of the defect. The recovery will be the difference between the amount of rent the tenant paid or owed during the period of the breach and the reasonable rental value of the dwelling in its defective condition.
Retaliatory actions are prohibited. A landlord cannot evict a tenant, increase the rent, or decrease any of the tenant’s entitled services for any of the following reasons:
- Only because tenant complained in good faith to the landlord or to a public agency concerning the tenant's rights or concerning a housing deficiency;
- Only because tenant is a member of a tenants' organization;
- Only because tenant filed suit against the landlord; or
- Only because tenant consulted a lawyer on a matter involving the tenant's rights.
In any eviction proceeding, if judgment is for the tenant on the basis of any of the above defenses, the court may order the landlord to pay reasonable attorney's fees and court costs for the tenant.
Generally, the court action is called a “suit for rent due” and the eviction procedure for nonpayment of rent is called "summary ejectment". If a tenant fails to pay rent when it is due, the landlord has the right to repossess the premises by filing a complaint under oath in District Court (sometimes called “Rent Court”) asking for repossession of the premises, the amount of rent due, and costs of the suit.
The action for non-payment of rent is only available for a written or oral lease or rental agreement that is more than 3 months.
Service and Notice
After a landlord files the complaint, the sheriff or constable will notify the tenant by serving the summons on the tenant or sub-tenant or by attaching it conspicuously to the property, on or before the third court day after the complaint was filed. The summons will explain that a hearing is scheduled for the fifth court day after the complaint was filed, and that the tenant should appear and show cause why the landlord should not be granted relief.
At the hearing, the judge has the authority to adjourn the proceedings for up to seven days. The adjournment may be longer than seven days if both tenant and landlord agree.
Trial and Judgment Against Tenant
At the trial, if the landlord proves that the tenant has not paid the rent or any part of the rent, the landlord will prevail. The judge will enter a judgment against the tenant for unpaid rent and court costs, and the tenant will be ordered to leave the dwelling within four days. However, if the tenant has a certificate signed by a physician indicating that an eviction within 4 days would endanger the health or life of any occupant of the premises, the judge has the power to extend that time for as long a period as he thinks necessary and just.
Tenant’s Right of Redemption
At any time before the actual carrying out of an eviction order, the tenant has the right to redeem the leased premises by offering to the landlord or the landlord’s agent in cash, certified check, or money order all past due rent and late fees, plus all court awarded costs and fees.
However, the tenant does not have the right to redeem if the landlord shows that more than three judgments of restitution (eviction orders) were issued against the tenant in the 12 months preceding the filing of landlord's complaint.
The tenant has the right in an eviction action to use any defense available under the law (such as rent escrow or the defenses mentioned in TENANT DEFENSES FOR FAILURE TO PAY RENT below). If tenant prevails on the basis of such a defense, then even if the judgment includes an order of restitution against the tenant, it will not be considered an order of restitution in relation to the right to redeem.
When the judgment is for the landlord and the tenant fails to comply with the order to vacate the premises, the landlord may ask the court to issue a warrant (called a “warrant of restitution”) to the sheriff or constable directing the tenant to restore possession of the premises to the landlord. The landlord must request this order within 60 days of the date of the judgment, or the case is considered dismissed. The landlord is permitted to remove the tenant’s personal property, by force if necessary, at the eviction.
Either the tenant or the landlord may appeal the judgment but the appeal must be made within four days of the date of judgment. If the tenant wants to delay execution of the judgment during the appeal, he must post a bond.
In an action by the landlord for recovery of rent or for possession of leased premises for non-payment of rent, or in an action brought by the tenant asking for one or more of the kinds of relief provided by the rent escrow law, the tenant may claim as a defense or as the basis for his or her action that the landlord has materially breached a provision of the written lease or a condition that constitutes a repudiation of a written inducement to rent the premises. These material breaches include but are not limited to the following:
- Lack of functional and sufficient laundry, cooking, or dishwashing facilities,
- Lack of functional refrigeration or air conditioning,
- Lack of proper maintenance, or
- Lack of specified recreational facilities.
The procedural and substantive provisions of the rent escrow law will apply to any action or defense based on this law.
A tenant occupying a dwelling for a term of one year or less who wishes to terminate the tenancy must give the landlord 30 days written notice before the end of the rental period. The tenant and the landlord may agree to a longer period of notice but state law requires that the notice period to be given by the tenant is the same or longer than is required for the landlord
In addition, every tenant must give the landlord at least 72 hours (3 days) notice before actually moving out. The landlord or the landlord’s agent then has the right to inspect the premises for any violation of conditions of the tenancy and if the tenant has committed any violations, he or she must provide the landlord with their next address.
Upon vacating the premises, the tenant must lock all doors, windows, and other openings and leave the premises clean and free of trash. Within 24 hours after vacating, the tenant must give the keys to landlord or the landlord’s agent, either in person or by registered mail, and the tenant may receive a receipt.
If the tenant fails to comply with these requirements, the tenant is liable for a fine of $25 to $100. NOTE: Delivery of the keys and acceptance by the landlord or the landlord’s agent does not relieve the tenant of any liability for rent due or to become due, or for any other obligation, under the terms of the lease or rental agreement.
Where a tenant's lease is for one year or less and the landlord wishes to terminate the tenancy, landlord must give tenant at least 60 days' written notice before the end of the year, month, or week when the tenant is to leave.
However, in the following situations a minimum of 30 days’ notice before the end of the lease term is required, unless the lease provides otherwise:
- Tenant is violating an obligation of the tenancy, such as unreasonably refusing to give landlord access to the premises or failing to comply with sanitation standards set by law;
- Tenant is committing or permitting a nuisance on the premises, or is permitting use of the premises for immoral or illegal purposes or for uses other than dwelling purposes;
- Tenant's occupancy in the dwelling unit is seasonal (defined as 5 months or less);
- The dwelling unit is a non-housekeeping furnished room or a unit without cooking facilities; or
- Tenant's lease has expired or otherwise ended and the occupants are subtenants and tenant does not use any part of the premises as his or her dwelling.
In the following situations, regardless of the length of the lease term or rental period, the landlord is required to give 60 days’ minimum notice (unless the lease provides otherwise):
- The landlord-owner seeks in good faith to recover possession of the dwelling so that he or a member of his or her immediate family (child, including stepchild and adopted child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, mother, father, mother-in-law and father-in-law) may live in it;
- The landlord seeks in good faith to demolish the dwelling or make substantial alterations which cannot be done while anyone occupies it, provided the landlord has obtained the necessary official approval for the demolition, remodeling, or alteration;
- The landlord seeks in good faith to substantially remodel the dwelling in order to permanently convert it to a commercial use, or to personally make permanent use of the premises for non-residential purposes, or to withdraw the premises from the rental market altogether, with no intent to sell it as housing.
If landlord does not comply with these requirements for notice to tenant, he will not be entitled to recover possession of the premises until proper notice is given.
The notice to tenant must be in writing and served on the tenant or left at his or her home or business, or served on his or her agent or any occupant of the premises. If there is no one living on the premises, then the notice may be served by being posted upon a conspicuous part of the premises.
If the landlord has given to the tenant a proper notice to end the tenancy and the tenant continues to occupy the premises, the landlord may seek to evict the tenant or may continue the tenancy at double the rent that was payable under the original lease.
If the landlord seeks to evict the tenant and the judgment is in favor of the landlord, the tenant will be liable for damages of up to double the rate of rent of the tenancy plus the landlord's court costs in addition to the eviction. If the judgment is in favor of the tenant, the landlord will be assessed whatever damages the court decides is fair, in addition to paying tenant's costs in the proceeding.
Either the tenant or the landlord may appeal any judgment to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, in the manner prescribed by the District Court, except that if the tenant wants to delay execution of any judgment against them during the appeal, he must post a bond. The Circuit Court may not reverse or set aside a judgment by the District Court for matter of form but only if there is a substantial defect.
The provisions about a tenant holding over apply to the tenant’s heirs and subtenants and to any person holding under tenants. If there are two or more tenants, each tenant is entitled to the notices and benefits described in this law.
If the tenant dies, the tenant’s surviving spouse or any member of deceased tenant's immediate family who was living on the premises with the tenant at the time of the tenant’s death has the right to be substituted as tenant in place of and to the same extent as the original tenant upon continued payment of rent to the landlord.
If the tenant dies and the rent is not paid, the landlord may file suit for summary ejectment against the tenant's personal representative, or if there is none, then against tenant's estate with notice served to the occupant of the premises or, if there is no occupant, by posting on the premises.
Special Rules for Public Housing
If a tenant of housing assisted under a program administered by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City dies, the surviving spouse or other member of the deceased tenant’s immediate family who is an occupant of the premises at the time of the tenant’s death may be considered eligible to enter into a lease in accordance with federal regulations and the occupancy policy of the housing, if the occupant:
- Is listed as a household member on the deceased tenant’s current leasing, recertification, and related documents; and
- Qualifies for continued occupancy, based on the eligibility requirements set forth in the occupancy policy of the housing and federal regulations.
If the surviving spouse or other member of the deceased tenant’s immediate family who is an occupant of the premises at the time of the tenant’s death does not satisfy these conditions, the Housing Authority may initiate legal proceedings to evict the occupant no earlier than 10 days following the date of the tenant’s death.
Any person who takes the following actions is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be subject to a fine not exceeding $500 and imprisonment of not more than 10 days or both for each and every offense:
- Someone who, in an attempt to deprive tenant of the protection of the laws relating to the continuation or termination of tenancies, makes false representations about tenant’s rights or willfully prevents the tenant from entering or leaving his or her dwelling, or
- Someone who, without the consent of the tenant, diminishes essential services to the tenant, such as gas, electricity, water, heat, light, furniture, furnishings, or similar services required under the expressed or implied terms of the tenancy.
Obligations of Landlord and Tenant
Except for one, two, and three-family dwellings, the landlord is responsible for the installation and the repair or replacement of all required detectors. The tenant is responsible to inform the landlord by certified or registered mail if any smoke detector becomes defective. A tenant may not remove or render a smoke detector inoperative.
Light Signal for Hearing Impaired
If the dwelling is occupied by a person who is hearing impaired and the tenant has asked for the detector in writing by certified or registered mail, the landlord must provide a smoke detector that is designed (and has been tested and certified by an approved testing laboratory) to alert persons with hearing impairments.
One, Two, and Three-Family Dwellings
An occupant of a one-, two-, or three-family dwelling must:
- Equip his or her own living unit with the number of detectors required by Section 907.2.11.2 of the International Fire Code (see below), each of which must be an approved battery- or AC primary electric-powered smoke detector; and
- Maintain those smoke detectors according to manufacturer’s guidelines.
The International Fire Code requires that smoke detectors be installed in the following places:
- On the ceiling or wall outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms;
- In each room used for sleeping purposes;
- In each story within a dwelling unit (including basements but not including crawl spaces and uninhabitable attics); and
- In dwellings or dwelling units with split-levels and without an intervening door between the adjacent levels.
If the lower level is less than one full story below the upper level, one smoke alarm installed on the upper level is enough to meet the code.
Read the code: International Fire Code, § 907.2.11.2
A “floodplain” is defined as:
- A relatively flat or low land area adjoining a river, stream, or watercourse that is subject to partial or complete inundation,
- An area subject to the unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or
- An area subject to tidal surge or extreme tides.
Read the law: Baltimore City Code, Natural Resources, Article 7, Division I
Where any part of a residential rental unit or the parking area or separate storage area of the unit is within a floodplain, and the city or some other governmental agency has notified the landlord of that fact, the landlord must give to each prospective tenant the following notice:
NOTICE TO PROSPECTIVE TENANT
The rental unit you are to occupy or the motor vehicle parking area or separate storage facility you are to use (as the case may be) is situated in an area prone to flooding during unusually heavy or prolonged steady periods of rain. Such flooding may damage personal belongings and motor vehicles. Because of this possible loss, you may be eligible for U.S. Government subsidized flood insurance on the personal belongings in your unit. In any event, because of this danger of loss of your personal belongings due to flooding, you may wish to consider acquiring flood insurance which may be purchased from some insurance agents.
Damage to motor vehicles may not be covered by such insurance; therefore you may also wish to determine whether or not you have sufficient motor vehicle insurance to cover loss due to damage of your motor vehicle resulting from flooding in this area.
The Baltimore City Department of Planning can provide information pertaining to the susceptibility of this area to flooding. You may wish to contact that Department, at (telephone number), before signing either this acknowledgment or the lease agreement for this rental unit.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT BY PROSPECTIVE TENANT
I acknowledge reading and understanding the foregoing warning concerning flooding. I have been provided time, prior to signing either this acknowledgment or a lease, to contact the Baltimore City Department of Planning concerning the susceptibility of the area around my rental unit to flooding.
This notice must be printed in bold face type, set apart from the body of the lease, with space for the tenant's written acknowledgment. If there is a written lease, the notice and acknowledgment must be initialed by both tenant and landlord and securely attached to the lease. Where the lease is oral, the notice must be given to tenant before he agrees to the lease.
A landlord who fails to give the notice after s/he has received notice is liable for any actual damages caused by natural flooding. In a civil action for damages, the landlord has the burden of proving that the tenant was given proper notice. The landlord is presumed to have met that burden if he produces the notice with the tenant's signature.
Notice to Purchaser
If landlord seeks to sell a rental unit that is in an area prone to flooding during unusually heavy or long periods of rain, he must to give to the purchaser a written notice of the possibility of flooding and must file with the Director of Finance of Baltimore City a statement that he notified the purchaser.
The owner of any non-owner-occupied dwelling unit or any rooming house must file an annual registration statement for that unit or rooming house with the Department of Housing and Community Development. Forms are available online at http://www.baltimorehousing.org/property_registration.
The operators of any multiple-family dwelling or rooming house must also be licensed by Department of Housing and Community Development. Multiple-family dwellings and rooming houses are subject to inspection before license renewal.
The Housing Code is violated when a dwelling has a "serious defect." This means the dwelling has a condition that constitutes (or if not promptly corrected will constitute), a fire hazard or a serious, substantial threat to the life, health, or safety of the occupants. A serious defect includes, but not limited to:
- Lack of heat, light, electricity, or hot or cold running water, except where the tenant is responsible for payment of utilities and the lack results from tenant's failure to pay the charges;
- Lack of adequate sewage disposal facilities;
- Infestation of rodents in the dwelling unit (except if the property is a one-family dwelling);
- Existence of paint containing lead pigment on surfaces in the dwelling unit;
- A structural defect that is a serious and substantial threat to the physical safety of the occupants; or
- A condition that is a health or fire hazard to the dwelling unit.
Rent Increase Restrictions
When Violation Notice Results from a Tenant Complaint
If a housing code violation notice results from a tenant complaint, the landlord may not increase the rent until the defect is corrected and the notice is abated and the following requirements are met:
- The written violation notice was issued by the Commissioner of Housing and Community Development more than 60 days before the rent increase is to take effect, or
- Before the tenant received the notice of rent increase, the tenant had filed a written complaint with the Commissioner of Housing and Community Development and sent a copy to the landlord.
For the purpose of this law, a notice of rent increase is presumed to be received by tenant no more than 60 days before expiration of the lease, unless the lease requires a longer notice period, but not more than 90 days.
When Violation Notice Did Not Result from a Tenant Complaint
If a landlord receives a violation notice following an inspection that was not the result of a tenant complaint and the violation notice cites a serious defect, the landlord may not increase the rent until the defect is corrected and the notice is abated (reduced).
If the serious defect is repaired and the violation notice abated within 30 days after expiration of the notice, a rent increase may begin either from the date of abatement or at the time of lease renewal, whichever is later.
Where the violation notice cites exterior defects that can be repaired only when the air temperature is 50°F or more, and the landlord receives the notice between October 1st and April 1st, then the expiration date for correcting those exterior defects is June 1st.
If the violation notice cites a non-serious defect, the landlord may impose a rent increase. However, if the non-serious defect is not repaired within 60 days after expiration of the notice, the rental fee reverts to the amount that was charged at the time the violation notice was issued.
If a serious defect is not repaired within the 30-day period or a less than serious defect within the 60-day period, the landlord may not increase the rent for 6 months following the date of abatement of the notice.
Other Legal Remedies
The provisions of this law do not limit the landlord's right to administrative review of the violation notice under the Housing Code. The tenant may request an appropriate court to stop or prevent a violation of this law.
Rooming Houses and Rooming Units
A “rooming house” means a building that:
- Is not a multiple family dwelling; and
- Contains more than 2 rooming units occupied or designed or intended to be occupied by individuals who, even though they might share common areas and facilities, do not form a single housekeeping unit and do not provide compensation under a single lease for occupancy of the rooming house.
A rooming house includes a hotel, motel, or boarding house.
A “rooming unit” means any room or group of rooms that form a single habitable unit occupied or designed or intended to be occupied for sleeping or living, but not for cooking purposes
No person may operate any multiple-family dwelling or rooming house without a license.