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The business of owning and managing residential rental property is much like any business. It takes research, planning and knowledge. As a Maryland landlord, it is important that you know the federal, state and local laws governing the landlord tenant relationship. If the opportunity and inclination arise to be a landlord, here are some things to keep in mind:
The property should be in basically good condition as to plumbing, electrical system, furnace, roof, etc.
Both oral and written leases are binding contracts between the landlord and the tenant.
Many landlords want the assurance of a year's written lease, but for some new landlords, a month-to-month written lease will be easier, especially if a tenant becomes a problem. Oral leases are legal in Maryland for the landlord who owns fewer than five rental units in the state, but a written lease is better. Leases for a period of more than one year must be in writing. Make sure your lease covers points of concern to you such as late charges, pets, subleasing, who can occupy the apartment, etc. If your lease contains an automatic renewal clause, make sure the tenant reads the clause and signs it.
Check to see if your City or County requires you to have a license or to register the rental property.
Research your rights and responsibilities under the landlord/tenant law.
Before you rent, be sure you understand the laws against housing discrimination.
Credit Check and Security Deposit
Request that an applicant obtain a credit report to give to you. If you run your own credit check, you may charge the applicant a fee for your actual costs.
Confirm the applicant's employment. As a rule of thumb, yearly rent should not exceed 30% of a tenant's gross income. If, for example, yearly rent is $3,000, the tenant's gross income should be at least $10,000.
Also require the tenant to provide contact information for previous rentals. Ask the previous landlord specific questions as to rent record, conduct, and care of property. If there are problems, discuss the specifics with the tenant before entering into the lease.
You should require a security deposit and the first month's rent before allowing the tenant to move in. It is risky to give possession of the property to a tenant who is not able to pay this money up front. Be aware that the security deposit law limits a security deposit to no more than the equivalent of two months rent. It also requires the landlord to inform the tenant in writing, at the time the tenant pays the security deposit, of the right to be present at an inspection of the property at the end of the tenancy. Landlords must include a receipt for the security deposit in the written lease.
Records and Communication
Keep accurate records - especially for rent. Give rent receipts. The law requires you to give receipts to tenants who pay by cash and to any tenant who requests them. Failure to provide receipts as required makes a landlord liable to the tenant for $25. Read the law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-205
Establish good communication with your tenant, respect their privacy and treat them with dignity.
Ending a Lease
If you want to terminate a lease, even if the lease has a termination date, you must given written notice to the tenant. This is also true if you intend to change any terms of the lease when it terminates such as the amount of rent charged or services included with the rental.
Never take the law into your own hands. You may not lock a tenant out, deny the tenant entry or exit, or diminish essential services to which the tenant is entitled without going through the court process to obtain a legal eviction. This is true even if the tenant is behind in rent, has failed to move after the expiration of the lease, after the date the tenant has stated he would move, or after the date you have told the tenant to move in a properly drafted notice to vacate.