A series of laws, called the landlord tenant code, help to govern the rights which renters have within the state of Maryland.
This code also sets forth the responsibilities that renters have toward landlords in this business relationship.
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding how this relationship can be structured within a lease.
Q: How Much Can a Security Deposit Be?
A: Landlords are permitted to require a security deposit that is 2x the amount of rent that is being charged for a rental unit. Renters who are overcharged this amount are allowed the right to recover up to 3x the extra amount they were charged plus reasonable legal fees. This means a unit with a $500 rent could have a $1,000 security deposit. Charging $1,100 would allow a tenant to pursue up to $300 in damages.
Q: Does a Security Deposit Collect Interest?
A: Security deposits must have interest paid on them if they are over $50. Interest rates are set yearly and can be based on the US Treasury yield. All deposits must be placed in an escrow account.
Q: Do Renters Have the Right To Their Deposit Back?
A: Landlords are only allowed to charge for actual damages when taking funds out of a security deposit. Ordinary wear and tear does not qualify as damage. Any remainder of the security deposit must be returned with interest within 45 days after a tenant moves out. Landlords who fail to show a good reason for missing this deadline can be held liable for up to 3x the security deposit amount.
Q: What Is Normal Wear and Tear?
A: Maryland has not set forth what qualifies as “normal” wear and tear. A family with 4 children and 3 dogs is going to have different wear and tear on a rental unit than newlyweds without kids or pets. Ripped carpeting or holes in a wall are generally considered damage. Small nail holes from hanging pictures may be considered regular wear and tear.
Q: What If a Rental Unit Isn’t Ready On Time?
A: If a landlord says a rental unit will be ready on the first day of the month, but it doesn’t become ready until the tenth day, then the tenant who has agreed to move into the unit can cancel the lease without penalty. They are entitled to their full security deposit and any prepaid rent back in full. They can also sue for any damages caused by the delay.
Q: Are Verbal Notifications Enforceable?
A: Although a verbal notification can serve as a notice in some situations, Maryland law recommends all communication between landlords and tenants be in writing. Tenants must sign-off on any automatic renewals of a lease specifically within the structure of the rental agreement for it to be valid. If this is not available, then automatic renewals cannot happen and the expiration of a lease can serve as notice of moving out.
Q: Can Landlords Increase Rent?
A: Landlords can increase the rent whenever it is outside of a structured rental agreement. Tenants have the right to receive a written notice about a rent increase before it happens. Leases which automatically renew may also have structured rent increases built into them.
Q: Can Tenants Break a Lease?
A: Yes. As with any contract, either party can break the contract with or without notice. This doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences to such an action. Landlords are obligated to search for new tenants should a renter break their lease, but they can follow their own protocols to fill that vacancy. Tenants must pay for the entire term of the lease if they move out should a landlord not be able to fill the rental unit. What a landlord cannot do is charge 4 months’ rent and then fill the rental unit in a week.
Q: Do Renters Have the Right to Withhold Rent?
A: No. Tenants must always pay their rent. If there are habitability repairs that a landlord is not making, such as a furnace repair in winter because there is no warmth, then renters can pay rent into an escrow account after sending a written complaint to their landlord regarding this issue. The renter must also report the housing conditions to the city’s housing inspector and a violation must be issued to the landlord. The court system under these circumstances will set up the escrow account and use those funds for potential repairs. Maryland has several other codes and statutes that govern renters rights.
This guide is intended only to answer certain common questions.
For a specific answer regarding your situation, speak with a local legal professional or consult the codes and statutes personally for a resolution.