Breaking a Lease

Under Maryland law, there is no right to break a lease for good cause. The only provision for breaking a lease is for individuals in active military service who are transferred permanently or temporarily for more than three months. Upon written notice, these tenants' liability under the lease is limited to 30 days' rent. Anyone else who moves during a lease is liable for the rent until the end of the lease or the unit is re-rented, whichever comes first.

Some leases contain provisions that the landlord will agree to terminate the lease if the tenant pays extra rent (such as two months). If the lease ends in two months or less, it may not be wise to use that lease term. If the lease runs longer than two more months, and you think the unit might not be re-rented, then you just have to make a choice between certain loss of two months' rent or possible liability for even more money. If you live in an apartment complex where there are always vacant apartments, the chance that the landlord will re-rent your apartment before the end of your lease is poor. If your lease does not have an "early termination" clause, but you would be willing to pay one or two months' rent to get out of the lease, you should see the landlord, explain your situation, and ask if they would agree to terminate the lease early. They may say no, but it could be worth trying.

Three common reasons people want to get out of a lease are:

  1. Health problems; for example, you have to climb stairs to enter the apartment, and your doctor has told you you must not climb stairs. If there is a serious medical reason why you need to move, you could ask the landlord for accommodation under the "Fair Housing Act."  If you show the landlord that the only way he or she can accommodate your medical disability is by letting you out of a lease early, the landlord may agree.
  2. Another resident of the apartment (or house) has died or moved away and you cannot afford the rent by yourself.  If the landlord will not agree to let you out of the lease, you may have little choice.  You could ask the landlord if you could sublet the apartment to someone else, or you could try to find someone who would share the apartment and the rent with you.  You would need the landlord's permission for another tenant to move in with you.
  3. You were on a waiting list for an apartment with a rent subsidy, and you finally got to the top of the list. When you reach the top of a waiting list for a subsidized apartment, you have a fairly short time to take the opportunity or to go back to the bottom of the list.  There is no good choice if the landlord will not let you out of the lease.  If you take the rent subsidy and move, the landlord may claim lost rent for the rest of the lease.  If the landlord claims lost rent, he or she may keep your security deposit, and also can sue you for unpaid rent.  In that case, you should get legal advice about whether you might have any legal defense to the suit, and whether the landlord can collect anything from you even if they get a judgment for the rent.

I want to evict a tenant. How do I go about doing so?

Although you may not need a lawyer, you should consider hiring a lawyer to help you.  Free legal assistance programs, such as the Legal Aid Bureau and the Senior Citizens Legal Services Programs do not handle eviction cases for landlords, so you would have to hire a lawyer in private practice to help you.  Landlord Tenant actions are filed in the District Court of Maryland. Tips on hiring an attorney.

If a tenant fails to pay rent and you wish to obtain a judgment for the unpaid rent and repossess the premises, you should file a Complaint for Repossession of Rented Property seeking the Court’s Order for repossession of the premises together with a judgment for the amount of rent due, plus costs. A trial is scheduled five (5) days after filing and service of the Complaint. If the tenant was not personally served with the summons and complaint, you will not be able to recover a money judgment for unpaid rent; however, you can still proceed with the eviction action. Under Maryland law, even though a judgment is awarded to you giving you possession of the premises, the tenant has a right of redemption, by tendering cash, certified check or money order to you for all past due rent, late fees, court costs and fees at any time prior to execution of the eviction order. This right of redemption however, does not apply to a tenant against whom three judgments have been entered for rent due and unpaid in the twelve months prior to the initiation of the eviction action.

If you wish to regain possession of your premises from a tenant who remains in possession of the property beyond the expiration of the agreed lease term, you would then file a Complaint and Summons Against Tenant Holding Over. Prior to filing the complaint, you must give the tenant written notice one (1) month before the expiration of the term. In Montgomery County, two (2) months notice is required.

Where the lease agreement provides that you may repossess the rented premises if the tenant breaches the lease, you must give the tenant thirty (30) days written notice that the tenant is in violation of the lease and that you wish to repossess the premises. If the tenant refuses to comply with your request, you may file a Complaint and Summons Against the Tenant in Breach of Lease. Upon filing the complaint, the most court must immediately serve the tenant with a summons to show cause why the possession should not be granted to you. If the tenant cannot be located, the constable or sheriff must affix an attested copy of the summons conspicuously on the property. The affixing of the summons on the property along with notice by first-class mail to the tenant, is conclusively presumed to be sufficient service to support restitution of the premises to you. If the court determines that the tenant breached the terms of the lease, and that the breach was substantial, and warrants eviction, the court will issue judgment for restitution of possession of the premises to you, as well as judgment for costs against the tenant.

An action for ejectment may also be filed where at least six (6) months ground rent is in arrears under a ninety-nine (99) year ground lease. You may bring an action for possession of the property upon sending the tenant notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, and if the tenant cannot be personally served by posting notice on the property.

Landlords in Maryland are prohibited from filing retaliatory evictions against tenants of residential property or arbitrarily increasing the rent or decreasing services to which a tenant is entitled. The law provides that no landlord shall evict a tenant or arbitrarily increase their rent or decrease services solely because a tenant has filed a written complaint against the landlord, or with any public agency, or the tenant has filed a lawsuit against the landlord, or because the tenant is a member of an organization. More complex rules and procedures govern retaliatory evictions in Montgomery County.

How much of a security deposit can my landlord require?

In Maryland, a landlord may not charge more than  two months’ rent.  The landlord must give you a receipt for the security deposit (the receipt can be included in the lease). Read the Law: MD Code Real Prop. § 8-203

I moved when my lease ran out, but the landlord never sent back my security deposit.

When a tenant moves at the end of a lease, the landlord must return the security deposit, with interest, minus any damages claimed within 45 days after the end of the lease. If the landlord is claiming damages, he or she must send a written list of damages and the actual cost of repairs within 30 days of the end of the lease. The type of damages the landlord can claim against a security deposit are unpaid rent and damage to the property in excess of ordinary wear and tear. If the landlord does not send the list of damages, he or she forfeits the right to withhold the security deposit. If the landlord does not return the security deposit within 45 days of the end of the lease, the tenant has the right to sue the landlord for three times the amount withheld plus attorney's fees.

I paid a security deposit and the first month's rent, but the apartment wasn't ready on time. What can I do?

You are entitled to "abatement" of the rent until the apartment is ready. If you want to cancel the lease, you must send a written notice to the landlord, and the landlord must return your security deposit and the rent you paid. If the delay in moving into the unit costs you money, the landlord may be liable for those expenses if you send a written notice of your damages, whether or not you cancel the lease.

I was evicted. Can I still get back my security deposit?

The landlord does not have to send a damages claim or return the security deposit unless the tenant sends a written request for the security deposit. The tenant's request for return of the deposit must be mailed within 45 days of the date she or he moves out, and must give the tenant's new address. The landlord has 30 days from the date the request is received to send a list of damages claimed, and has another 15 days after that to return the security deposit minus any damages claimed. If the landlord does not send the list of damages, she or he loses the right to withhold the deposit. If the landlord does not return any part of the security deposit which is due to the tenant within 45 days of receipt of the tenant's request for its return, the tenant can sue the landlord for three times the amount wrongly withheld plus attorney's fees.

I am a tenant in subsidized housing. Can I be charged more than 30% of my monthly adjusted income for rent?

How much you will have to pay for rent depends on the type of subsidized housing you live in. Your landlord can only charge more than 30% if you live in certain types of subsidized housing.

Three major types of subsidized housing are available, not including public housing programs.

1. Section 8

This is the most common type of subsidized housing. If you are a Section 8 tenant, your landlord has agreed with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make housing available to lower income households. Under this program, the rent you pay is limited to

    * 10% of your family's monthly income;
    * 30% of your family's monthly adjusted income; or
    * the part of your welfare payment specifically for your housing needs.

 To determine how much rent you must pay, you first have to determine your total monthly income. This includes not only wages you earn but also other types of money you may receive such as Social Security, alimony, and child support. Food stamps, foster care payments, money you inherit and insurance payments are not included.

After your total income is determined, you can then reduce it by subtracting certain amounts such as $480 for each family member who is under age 18, disabled, or a full-time student.

The calculation of income for Section 8 housing is complicated. If you think your landlord may be overcharging you, you should contact your local HUD office. Staff can figure out your family's monthly adjusted income and tell you if your rent is too high.

2. Section 236

With this program, builders of multifamily housing get government subsidies to reduce the amount of money the builder has to pay as interest. In exchange for having lower costs to build the building, the builder agrees to charge lower rent. A renter under the Section 236 program may have to pay more in rent than a Section 8 tenant. Rent for Section 236 tenants is the greater of:

the basic rental charge (based on operating expenses, mortgage, interest and utilities) or

30% of the tenant's adjusted monthly income.

If you are a Section 236 tenant, you may quality for a special Rental Assistance Program (RAP) if your adjusted monthly income is less than four times your rent. If you qualify for RAP you would only have to pay 30% of your monthly adjusted income as rent.

3. Section 202

This program assists private, non-profit organizations to build or rehabilitate housing for older persons or persons with disabilities. Section 202 rent is not based on the tenant's income.

When I moved in, there was already some damage to the apartment. How can I keep the landlord from charging me to repair it when my lease is up?

When you pay a security deposit, the landlord is required to give you a receipt that states certain tenants' rights (the receipt can be part of the lease). If the landlord does not give you a receipt with these rights, or they are not in your lease, you could sue the landlord for $25 damages. The receipt must tell you that you have a right to a list of existing damages if you request it in writing within 15 days of the date you move in. It also must tell you that when you move out, you have the right to be present at an inspection if you send the landlord a certified mail request to be present for the inspection. You must state your intention to move, the date you are moving, and your new address, and you must mail it at least 15 days before you move. The landlord must notify you of the time and date of the inspection by certified mail. The inspection must be not more than five days before or five days after you move out. If the landlord does not properly allow you to be present at the inspection, he or she cannot withhold your security deposit for any damages claimed.

Converting a senior living facility into apartments open to the general public

Beginning October 1, 2016, a landlord who intends to convert a senior living facility into rooms open to the general public must give senior residents notice 180 days in advance.

Addtional Resources

The following books may be available at a public Circuit Court Law Library or municipal public library.

Trevor Rhodes & Nicole Février, American Landlord Law : Everything U Need to Know about Landlord-Tenant Laws, New York: McGraw-Hill (2009)

Janet Portman & Marcia Stewart, Every Tenant's Legal Guide, Berkeley, Calif. : Nolo Press (6th ed. 2009)


Legal Aid Bureau; update by Rudi Lamy, Maryland Law Library

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