“Distress for rent” is a court procedure in which the landlord seeks to seize and sell the tenant's possessions on the leased premises and to use the proceeds of the sale to reimburse the landlord for any unpaid rent. This procedure is available only where there is a written lease for a term longer than 3 months or there is a tenancy at will or periodic tenancy that has continued for more than 3 months. The landlord may also request that the lease be terminated and/or that he be entitled to repossess the premises as a part of distress action. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-324
The landlord must file a petition under oath in the District Court where the leased premises are located claiming that the tenant owes a certain amount of rent. Read the Law: MD Code Real Prop. §§ 8-302 & 8-303
The tenant must be served with notice of the petition and an order to appear at a hearing to be held no sooner than 7 days after he was served. If the tenant cannot be served in person, service may be accomplished by certified mail, return receipt requested; if this service is returned or refused by tenant, then service can be made by first class mail. The served order must inform the tenant that the tenant may appear at the time stated and present evidence on his behalf AND that if the defendant fails to appear, all goods on the leased premises not exempted by law may be seized and removed by the sheriff . Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-304
The tenant may file an answer to the petition, setting forth any defense the tenant may have. The hearing on the tenant's answer must be held within 10 days of notifying all parties about the hearing by regular mail (Section 8-314(b)). The court may postpone the hearing if it notifies all parties. At the hearing the court may determine and decide all issues raised, and issue an order of sale of the goods and may make any other order in connection with the tenant’s goods as required. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-314
For the landlord to prevail at the hearing, whether the tenant appears or does not appear, the court must find that there is a reasonable probability that the landlord’s allegations are correct.Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-305
Order of Levy
If the landlord prevails, the court will promptly issue an order to seize (levy) the tenant’s non-exempt personal property on the premises (see below for personal property that is exempt). A copy of the order of levy must be served on each tenant but if no tenant can be found on the premises, the order must be posted in a prominent place on the interior of the premises.
An officer of the court will then make an inventory of all non-exempt items on the premises; this copy must be provided to the tenant or, if no tenant is found, posted inside the premises. This inventory must then be provided to the court.Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-305
Personal Property Exempt From Levy
- Tenant’s personal property not on the premises Levy must be made solely on goods on the leased premises, regardless of whether the goods are the property of the tenant or of some other person (Section 8-306(a)). If the term of a lease is for more than 15 years, the goods of any subtenant or of any third party on the leased premises are not subject to levy (Section 8-306(b)).
- The following specific items (Section 8-307):
- Hand-powered and operated tools used by the tenant in his occupation
- The law books of an attorney
- Hand-operated instruments of a physician
- Medical books of a physician
- Files and professional records of a lawyer or physician
- A third person's recorded security interest in goods which are in tenant's possession
Time and Manner of Seizure
The levy may be made at any time of the day or night. However, without a court order, no forcible entry may be made into residential premises that are currently occupied. If any of the goods seized belong to a third party who is not a tenant, the third party may petition the court within 7 days of the levy to ask that his possessions be excluded.
A tenant whose goods have been seized but not yet sold may petition the court for the return of the goods, but the court may require him to file a bond before the goods are returned. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. §§ 8-309, 8-311, 8-316, 8-317
Removing Goods from the Property Prior to Sale
Upon a showing of need to protect the levied goods before sale, a plaintiff may petition the court to have the levied good removed from the leased premises to a place approved by the court until the sale; the court may require a bond from the plaintiff to do this. The expense of removal of any goods from the leased premises to any other place for storage pending sale must be included as a part of the costs of lawsuit. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. §§ 8-310 & 8-313
Liability for Loss or Destruction of Goods
The risk of loss or destruction of the levied goods is on the owner or the tenant of the leased premises, regardless of whether the goods were removed from the leased premises by the officer; however, the officer is responsible to the owner for willful damage to the goods. An officer does not incur liability for removal of goods that are affixed to the property and the officer may require the plaintiff to obtain an indemnity bond to protect the officer from any claim for damage or injury to any person or property caused by the officer's removal for sale of goods affixed to the property. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. §§ 8-312 & 8-313
Sale of Goods
The date of the sale is in the discretion of the court but must be held as soon as feasible.
The sale must be advertised at least 1 time (or more if ordered by the court) in a newspaper published at least weekly and having general circulation in the area. If no newspaper meets these requirements, the notice may be posted on the door of the courthouse.
The notice of sale should contain the time and location of the sale and be published or posted at least 7 days in advance of the date of the sale. The sale must be held within 28 days after notice of sale.
The sale must be in the form of a public auction. An officer of the court may remove the goods from the leased premises to some suitable place for auction or hold the sale on the leased premises . Cost of the removal of goods for sale are included as costs of the sale.
Only enough of the tenant's goods to satisfy the claim for rent due and to pay all costs may be sold. The goods of the tenant must be sold first and in their entirety, if necessary, to satisfy the rent claim and all costs before any goods of others are sold and the sale of goods of others must be made only to the extent necessary to satisfy the rent claim and all costs. The third party whose goods were sold has a right of action against the tenant for any loss sustained by the third party as a result of the levy and sale of the third party's goods. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. §§ 8-318, 8-319, 8-320, 8-323
All unsold goods, as well as any surplus money, must be returned to the tenant or paid as provided by order of the court. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-320
After all court costs and other expenses have been paid, if the amount of money received from the distress sale is not enough to pay the landlord's claim, the landlord may petition the court for a deficiency money judgment against the tenant. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-325
Either party may appeal from any final order or judgment to the circuit court of the county within 14 days from the date of the order or judgment.
The appeal will be a new trial (called “de novo”) and each party has the right to a jury trial, if requested, in accordance with the rules of the appellate court.
NOTE: An appeal does not delay or prevent another distress for rent action for rent that becomes due after the original trial nor does it delay the execution of a judgment or order from the original trial. However, the court may order a suspension of all further proceedings or the execution of any judgment if the tenant files an appeal bond approved by the court. Read the Law: MD Code, Real Prop. § 8-332