Essential Services/Illegal Lock-Out
A tenant may come home to his apartment to find that the landlord has changed the locks or cut off an essential service such as gas, heat, water, electricity, etc. to which the tenant is entitled. Such action usually follows a tenant being behind in rent, staying after the day the tenant was to vacate the apartment, or is simply the result of an argument between the tenant and landlord. Sometimes it is the result of the landlord’s failure to pay a utility bill he is responsible for under the terms of the lease. The landlord may not take possession or threaten to take possession of the leased premises or tenant’s property without a court order or unless the tenant has abandoned the property. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-216
The landlord cannot legally cut off or diminish essential services such as gas, electricity, water, heat, etc., to which tenant is entitled. The landlord’s failure to provide an essential service does not give the tenant the right to stop payment of rent, but it may make the tenant eligible for rent escrow relief. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-211,Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-216 & Public Local Laws of Baltimore City Section 9-9
In addition, a landlord who locks out a tenant or reduces essential services can be sued for a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment by the tenant. The tenant would be able to ask for damages including, but not limited to lost or damaged property, cost of a motel and food, storage fees and reasonable attorneys' fees. A tenant who is denied entry to the property may also sue the landlord for similar damages for constructive eviction. The landlord could also be held liable for the difference the tenant must pay for rent in a new property. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-216
In order to repossess the property for breach of lease, a landlord may file a form with the District Court after giving a tenant 30 days notice. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-402.1
The basic principle is that a landlord cannot take the law into his own hands. If the tenant owes rent or has not vacated the premises when he should have, the landlord’s remedy is to take the tenant to court.
In Baltimore City, any person who, in an attempt to deprive tenant of the protection of the laws relating to continuation or termination of tenancies, makes false representations about tenant’s rights or willfully prevents tenant from entering or leaving his dwelling or without the consent of the tenant, diminishes essential services to the tenant, such as the providing of gas, electricity, water, heat, light, furniture, furnishings, or similar services, to which under the expressed or implied terms of the tenancy the tenant may be entitled, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof, shall be subject to a fine not exceeding $500 and imprisonment of not more than ten (10) days, or both, in the discretion of the court, for each and every offense. The tenant can file a complaint with the Court Commissioner at the Borgerding District Court Building, 5800 Wabash Avenue, Baltimore, MD (410-752-8398 / 1-800-939-4523). Read the Law: Public Local Laws of Baltimore City, Section 9-15
In addition, the Baltimore County Code provides that a landlord may not reduce or withhold essential services such as means of ingress or egress, gas, electricity, water, heat, light, furniture, furnishings, or similar services to which tenant may be entitled under the express or implied terms of the tenancy. A violation of this law is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of not more than $100. Read the Law: Baltimore County Code, Section 35-3-101
The tenant may file a complaint with Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections at 111 W. Chesapeake Avenue, Suite 105, Towson, MD 410-887-3352 or 410-887-8099.