This article concerns a landlord evicting a tenant for failing to pay rent. See the bottom of the article for phone numbers of who to contact to help with evictions, whether you are a landlord or a tenant.
The process for evictions and rent court is as follows: If rent is late a landlord may start the eviction process right away. First, the landlord files a complaint. Next, there is a trial where the tenant may defend himself. If the court rules in favor of the landlord then the landlord can file a warrant of restitution to arrange a sheriff to supervise the eviction. A tenant may “pay to stay” at any time prior to eviction by the sheriff. At the eviction, the sheriff will order the tenant and all others inside to leave. The sheriff will also remove the tenant’s personal possessions. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
No Eviction Without Court Order
If a tenant fails to pay the rent on time, the landlord may ask the court to approve the tenant's eviction. That means that a landlord cannot lock a tenant out or force a tenant out by turning off the heat, water, or electricity. If a landlord takes one of these actions without a court order, a tenant can call the police and an attorney or a legal services organization. Similarly, a landlord cannot use eviction to retaliate for filing a complaint or lawsuit. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Sections 8-208.1; § 8-216
Landlord May File a Complaint Immediately after Rent is Late
To evict a tenant a landlord must file a complaint under oath in District Court using a “failure to pay rent” form. This form:
- describes the property;
- names each tenant or subtenant;
- states the rent and late fees less utilities or security deposit paid;
- requests repossession;
- for rental unit properties built before 1978 states that the property was registered and renewed the property under Environment §§ 6-811, 6-812 (pertaining to lead paint – a landlord cannot file for failure to pay rent on an unregistered or unrenewed property); and
- states the rent due each pay period, the day rent is due, and the late fees.
Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
Notice of the Trial to the Tenant
The tenant should receive a “summary ejectment proceeding” within three days from when the complaint was filed. One copy will be sent by mail and a yellow form copy is posted on the door to the home. The “summary ejectment proceeding” notice will state when the tenant is due in court for a trial. It may be as soon as five days after the complaint was filed. The trial date and time are on the upper right-hand corner of the form. At any time before or at trial, the tenant may make payments to the landlord. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
The Day of the Trial
If a tenant is challenging the complaint, he or she should go to the hearing, be on time, and be in the courtroom when the docket begins. The tenant should bring documents and evidence to support his or her arguments against the landlord’s complaint. These documents may include the claims including the lease, accounting records, cancelled checks, photographs, etc. If the tenant does not appear, the landlord will probably win. If the landlord does not appear, the ejection action will likely be dismissed.
A tenant may see a representative from the landlord at the courthouse on the day of the hearing. The tenant may choose to enter an agreement to settle the case through a payment plan or other agreement with the landlord’s representative. However, the tenant is not required to reach an agreement with the landlord. The tenant has a right to defend himself or herself in District Court by presenting evidence and introducing witnesses. Tenants can, for example, prove that they did pay the rent, or that they tried to pay the rent but the landlord would not accept it.
Defense for Dangerous Defect of the Property – Rent Escrow
One situation where the tenant may be allowed to stay in his or her home is if a landlord has failed to repair a dangerous condition. If a tenant gave a landlord notice of a safety problem over a month before the hearing, and the landlord did not fix the problem, then the tenant may argue that he or she does not need to pay the landlord rent. Examples of safety problems include no heat, broken toilets, rats or mice, major problems with walls, floors or ceilings, lead paint, or fire hazards. A tenant may keep back-rent, and defend himself or herself based on the safety violation. If the Court agrees that the home poses a serious threat to the tenant’s safety, the tenant will pay the rent to the Court into an “escrow account” until the dispute is resolved. The legal action tenant may bring outside of an eviction case is an action of rent escrow. For more information about the action the tenant can take against the landlord, see Rent Escrow: When the Landlord Fails to Make Repairs. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-211
Defense for Retaliatory Eviction
Another defense is when the tenant can show that the landlord is evicting the tenant to retaliate for filing a complaint or lawsuit or joining a tenant organization. If proven (and if a tenant is current on the rent due), a tenant may receive damages up to 3 months rent, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-208.1
Judgment and Appeal Right
At the close of the trial, if the Judge finds the tenant has not paid the rent or if the tenant does not appear, then the court will decide in favor of the landlord. The court will enter a judgment in the amount of rent and late fee and costs of the lawsuit. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
A tenant or landlord may appeal the court order within four days after it has been issued. If a tenant appeals, he will be required to post bond. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
Warrant of Restitution
The tenant then has 4 days to leave. If the tenant has a doctor’s note saying that it would be dangerous to leave because of a medical condition, the tenant can have up to 15 days to leave. Baltimore City has no limit to how long a sick tenant can stay if he or she has a doctor’s note. If the tenant does not leave, then the landlord can seek a “warrant of restitution.” This allows the landlord to make a plan with the constable or sheriff to evict the tenant and remove his possessions. A landlord must request a warrant of restitution within 60 days of the judgment. If he or she waits longer the judgment will expire. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
Right to Redeem (Pay to Stay)
The tenant may pay the landlord or his agent at any time before the eviction occurs (called the “right to redeem the premises”). The tenant can pay by cash, a certified check, or money order all past due rent and late fees, plus court costs and fees. However, the tenant cannot redeem if he or she has 3 or more rent judgments against him or her in the 12 months before the eviction action (4 or more in Baltimore City). Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
Eviction by Sheriff
The landlord cannot evict the tenant until the constable or sheriff is present to allow him to do so. A copy of the “warrant of restitution” is sent to the tenant warning that the tenant may be evicted. The time and date of the eviction is not listed on the warrant of restitution. The tenant can call the constable or sheriff’s office with the case number to ask when the eviction will take place. In extreme weather conditions, the court may delay evictions on a day-by-day basis. If the landlord does not evict the tenant within 60 days from the warrant of restitution then the warrant expires. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-401
Resources for Landlords and Tenants
If eviction would leave the tenant homeless, the tenant may be eligible for an emergency grant or other help from an eviction prevention program. One program is offered by Baltimore City’s Department of Social Services: 443-378-4600.
For more information from the Court see: www.courts.state.md.us/legalhelp/housing.html
For information about a tenant “holding over” as a tenant after the term of the lease ends or for breaking the lease see Holding Over.