"Lease" means any oral or written agreement, express or implied, creating a landlord-tenant relationship, including any sublease and any further sublease. Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 1-101(h)

  • A lease for a term of 1 year or less is valid whether it is written or oral, but any lease for more than 1 year must be in writing and signed by the person creating it if it is to be enforceable.  Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. §§ 5-101 and 5-102
  • A landlord who rents using a written lease must upon written request by an applicant, provide a copy of the proposed lease, complete in all important details except the date, rental rate, designation of the premises, and name and address of tenant.  Landlord must provide this copy without requiring a deposit or actual execution of the lease.
  • In any residential lease it is prohibited for the landlord to ask tenant to authorize any other person to confess judgment on a claim arising from the lease; to ask tenant to agree to waive any right or remedy provided by law; to ask tenant to pay a late fee penalty which is greater than 5% of the amount of rent due for the period for which payment is late.  (However, where rent is paid in weekly installments, a penalty of $3 may be charged for each late payment, up to a maximum of $12 per month even if this exceeds the 5% limit on late fee charges.)  (This provision is highlighted in H. below.)  If the landlord includes such a provision, the landlord may be unable to collect any late fee if the lease provision exceeds the amount allowed by law; to ask tenant to waive his right to jury trial; to ask tenant to agree to accept a shorter period for notice to quit than that provided by law.  (However, both parties may agree to a longer period, so long as the tenant is not required to give more notice than the landlord must give.);
  • for landlord to take possession of the premises or tenant's property without legal process, unless the lease has been terminated by the parties or by action of law, and the tenant has abandoned his personal property there; or to include any provision which is against public policy and void under Sec. 8-105 (see below) Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-208

The Lease Application

Each lease application must include a statement which explains the liabilities tenant incurs upon signing the application; and the following Code provisions: 1) If landlord requires from prospective tenant any fees other than a security deposit, and those fees exceed $25, landlord must return the fees no later than 15 days after the date of occupancy, or no later than 15 days after written communication by either landlord or tenant to the other that no tenancy will occur. If landlord does not comply, he is liable for twice the amount of the fees; and 2) landlord may retain the amount actually expended for a credit check or for other expenses arising out of the application.

This section applies only to landlords who offer 5 or more rental units on one parcel of property or at one location. It does not apply to seasonal rentals or condominium rentals. Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-213

Penalties for including a prohibited provision

Any lease provision which is prohibited by law cannot be enforced by the landlord.  In addition, if a landlord includes in a lease a provision prohibited by section 8-208 or a provision made unenforceable by section 8-105 (see G. below) or by section 8-203 (see Security Deposits), and offers the lease, or attempts to enforce, or makes known to tenant his intent to enforce any such provision, tenant may recover any actual damages he incurs because of it, including reasonable attorneys' fees.

Automatic renewal provisions for periods of more than one month

Where a lease provides for automatic renewal of the lease unless prior notice is given by the party seeking to terminate the lease, that renewal provision must be distinctly set apart from the other provisions of the lease, and space must be provided for tenant's written acknowledgment of that provision.  Without tenant's signature, initials or witnessed mark, the landlord may not enforce the automatic renewal clause.  The validity of the rest of the lease is not affected by the absence of tenant's acknowledgment of the automatic renewal clause.

This provision applies only to automatic renewal periods of more than one month.  Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-208

Local laws

Local laws may supplement but may not diminish any right or remedy granted by section 8-208. Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-208
Landlord cannot shield himself from liability
Where the effect of a lease provision would shield a landlord from liability to a tenant or other person for any injury or damage caused by negligence, fault, omission, etc., of the landlord relating to any part of the leased premises not within the exclusive control of the tenant, that lease provision is against public policy and is void.  Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-105
NOTE:  Such "exculpatory" clauses are still found in many leases, and while not enforceable in court, could lead the tenant to think that the landlord is not liable for injury or damage when in fact the landlord may be liable.

Late payment of rent: penalties

The penalty for late payment of rent may be no more than 5% of the amount of rent due for the period for which payment is late.  However, where rent is paid in weekly installments, landlord may charge $3 for each late payment up to a maximum of $12 per tenant per month even if it exceeds the 5% limit.  Landlord cannot collect any late fee if the lease provision specifies a penalty that exceeds the amount allowed by law.  Also, if landlord includes a prohibited provision in the lease, or attempts to enforce or make known to tenant his intent to enforce such a provision, tenant may recover actual damages incurred, including attorneys' fees.  Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-208

Special provisions for landlords with five or more units within the State

Landlords who own five or more rental units in the State must use a written lease.  Failure of the landlord to use a written lease results in the presumption of a one-year tenancy from the date of the tenant's first occupancy unless the tenant elects to end the tenancy at an earlier date by giving one months written notice.Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Prop. § 8-208

Required provisions

A landlord who offers five or more dwelling units for rent in the State, must include in each lease a statement that the premises will be available in a reasonably safe, habitable condition; or, if that is not the agreement, the lease must include a statement concerning the condition of the premises; a statement specifying landlord's and tenant's obligations as to heat, gas, electricity, water, and repair of the premises.

Prohibited Provisions

A landlord who offers five or more dwelling units for rent in the State may not include a provision authorizing the landlord to take possession of the premises or tenant's personal property in any manner not "pursuant to law," or a provision permitting the landlord to evict tenant solely in retaliation against tenant for planning, organizing, or joining a tenant organization with the purpose of negotiating collectively with the landlord.

This law is not intended to change landlord's or tenant's rights arising from a breach of the lease, or to change either party's right to terminate or not renew a lease under the terms of the lease.  Read the Law: Md. Code Real Prop. § 8-203.1
NOTE: The above prohibited clauses should not be construed to imply that a landlord with fewer than 5 units may do what these provisions forbid.  No landlord may take possession of the premises or of tenant's personal possessions in a manner not "pursuant to law," and the retaliatory eviction described above is prohibited to all by section 8-208.1 of the Maryland Real Property Article.

If tenants today rightly or wrongly feel that leases are one sided contracts in favor of the landlord, they would feel even worse with leases provisions that were allowed a number of years ago.  Since that time, the state has enacted legislation that would prohibit certain provisions in a residential lease.

Tenant authorizes any other person to confess judgment on a claim arising from the lease.  Thus, for example, if a landlord felt that a tenant owed money for physical damage to a property at the end of the tenancy, the landlord could, by the authority of the lease, simply claim the amount as a judgment -- even if the tenant contests the situation -- and without having to prove the claim in court.

Having a late charge in a lease which is more than 5% of the amount due for the period which the payment is late.  However, where the rent is paid in weekly installments, a penalty of $3 may be charged for each late payment, up to a maximum of $12 per month.  This is a limitation on the amount of late charge.  It does not give the landlord the right to automatically charge a late charge.  It must be called for in the lease.  Also, it is a one time charge.  If January’s rent is still owing in February, there cannot be a second 5% charge.  Please note special provisions for Prince Georges County.

Tenant waives his/her right to a jury trial. The right to a jury trial is an important principle and many tenants may feel that they would get more sympathy from a jury than from a judge.  However, a jury trial is not used very much in the tenant/landlord relationship.  The amount involved must be $5,000.  Thus, an alleged breach of lease with seven months to go at $800 a month would allow for a jury trial.  The tenant, however, would need a lawyer adding additional expenses to an already potentially expensive situation.

Tenant agrees to accept a shorter period for notice to quit than that provided by law.  This is a fairly, frequent occurrence and therefore this is a most useful protection.  Both parties, however, can agree to a longer period.

Landlord may not take possession of the premises or tenant’s property without legal process, unless the lease has been terminated by the parties or by action of law, and the tenant has abandoned his property.  Such a clause is rarely seen in a lease used by a  professional landlord, but on occasion, one sees such a clause.  Even so, this is the major concern of tenants who fall behind in their rent or have a dispute with their landlord.  “Can the landlord put my possessions out on the street at anytime and without going to court?”  We have never had a professional landlord take such action, but there have been a couple or major companies that send intimidation notices implying that such can happen in an effort to collect rent.  We have had to call numerous non-professional landlord’s to inform them that they cannot carry out such a threat.  If they do they could be sued for damages and in some jurisdictions, they could receive a fine.

A lease provision which is against public policy such as a provision that holds harmless, or excuses a landlord from liability to a tenant or other person for any injury or damage caused by negligence or fault of the landlord, or his agents, relating to any part of the leased premises not within the exclusive control of the tenant.  This type of “hold harmless” provision is known as an exculpatory clause.

If there is a prohibited lease provision in a lease, the lease is still valid.  The prohibited provision is not enforceable in court.  If a landlord attempts to enforce or makes known to a tenant his intent to enforce any such provision, a tenant may recover any actual damage he incurs because of it, including reasonable attorney’s fees. 

Additional Resources

14 Maryland Legal Encyclopedia, Landlord and Tenant

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