What is the Consumer Protection Act?
The Consumer Protection Act is a law that provides protections for consumers, including tenants and prospective tenants of residential property. Some of these protection include mediation, artbitration, and litigation, which is provided by the Consumer Protection Division in the Office of the Attorney General. The Consumer Protection Division may also perform independent studies, investigations and public education. Read the Law: Md. Code, Commercial Law ("Comm. Law"), § 13-102 and 13-204
"Consumer" means an actual or prospective purchaser, lessee (tenant), or recipient of consumer goods, consumer services, consumer realty, or consumer credit.
"Consumer realty" means real property that is primarily used for personal, household, family or agricultural purposes.
"Merchant" means a person (landlord) who directly or indirectly either offers or makes available to consumers any consumer goods, consumer services, consumer realty, or consumer credit.
"Advertisement" means the publication or circulation of any oral or written matter that directly or indirectly tends to induce a person to enter into an obligation, sign a contract (a lease), or acquire title or interest in any merchandise, real property, intangibles, or service; and
The term “advertisement” includes every device that disguises a business solicitation by using a word such as "renewal," "invoice," "bill," "statement," or "reminder" to create an impression of an existing obligation if there is none, or other language to mislead a person in relation to a proposed commercial transaction. Read the Law: Comm. Law, § 13-101
What types of actions or practices violate the Consumer Protection Act?
A merchant may not engage in any “unfair or deceptive trade practice” when renting, selling, or offering to rent or sell consumer realty. These practices are illegal whether or not the tenant is actually deceived or tricked in any way.
What is an “unfair or deceptive trade practice”?
An unfair or deceptive trade practice includes the following:
- A false or misleading oral or written statement, visual description, or other representation that has the capacity, tendency or effect of deceiving consumers;
- Representation that consumer realty has a sponsorship, characteristic, use, etc., which it does not have;
- Representation that consumer realty is of a particular standard, quality, or style which it is not;
- Failure to state a material fact if the failure deceives or tends to deceive;
- Disparagement of the realty, services, etc., of someone else by a false or misleading representation of a material fact;
- Advertisement or offer of consumer realty without intent to lease, rent, or sell as advertised or offered, or with the intention of not supplying the reasonably expected demand, unless the offer indicates a limited supply;
- A false or misleading statement of the reason for offering realty at a sale or discount price;
- Intended misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the promotion or sale of consumer realty, or with the subsequent performance of a merchant under an agreement of sale or rental; or
- Use of a confessed judgment clause in a contract, including a lease, which waives the consumer's right to use a legal defense. Read the Law: Comm. Law, § 13-301
When does the Consumer Protection Act apply in a lease?
In cases that involve landlords and tenants, the Consumer Protection Act only applies to a lease at the time that the consumer enters into it. Read the Law: Richwind Joint Venture v. Brunson, 335 Md. 661, 683 (1994).
What types of services does the Consumer Protection Act not apply to?
The Consumer Protection Act does not apply to:
- The professional services of an architect, certified public accountant, lawyer, insurance company authorized to do business in the State, a land or property line surveyor, or real estate broker or salesman licensed by the State;
- A public service company regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission; or
- A television or radio station, or a publisher or printer, who broadcasts or prints an advertisement that violates the law, unless the station or printer or publisher knew the advertisement was in violation, or engaged in an unfair or deceptive practice in the sale or offering of its own goods or services. Read the Law: Comm. Law, § 13-104
What should I do if I believe my landlord has violated the Consumer Protection Act?
A landlord who violates the consumer protection laws may be liable for civil penalties. The landlord is also guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 1 year, or both, unless another criminal penalty is specifically provided elsewhere. Read the Law: Comm. Law, § 13-410
For more information, including how to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General. Call toll-free at 1-888-743-0023 or visit their website.
A tenant (consumer) who is a victim of a deceptive practice may bring a lawsuit to get payment for losses he or she may have had as a result of the deceptive practice. In addition to this payment, a judge may give the tenant attorney’s fees if the tenant’s lawsuit is successful. Read the Law: Comm. Law, § 13-408