No landlord wants to deal with the inevitable cost and hassle that comes with eviction. However, it is sometimes necessary as a legal means for removing a problem tenant. As frustrating as the situation may be, landlords cannot resort to their own means of eviction. In fact, state laws are stringent regarding evicting a tenant, regardless of the reasoning. Therefore, you and your property management company must understand the legally compliant procedures behind evicting a tenant. Failure to do so may find landlords having legal troubles of their own. So, continue reading below as we explain the most common eviction mistakes and how to prevent them in your rental properties.
What are the Legal Reasons to Evict a Tenant?
Part of understanding what not to do comes with knowing the lawful reasons a landlord can file for eviction in Maryland. In short, there are a few common reasons for legal eviction complaints. Anything outside of the reasons below may be considered unlawful, and landlords should seek the advice of a qualified landlord-tenant attorney.
Legal Reasons a Landlord Can Pursue Eviction
- Non-payment of rent
- Holding over past the agreed upon lease term
- Breaching any provision of the lease agreement
- If you are selling your property
- To complete renovations to your property
- Tenants cause damage to the property
What is the Legal Eviction Process in Maryland?
Evicting a tenant in Maryland requires several specific steps as part of the legal process. Not following state and local guidelines creates liability for the landlord. So, to avoid additional litigation and evict the tenant in the most efficient way possible, follow the steps below.
- Provide the Tenant a Notice of Termination
- File a Complaint in District Court
- Summons is Issued by the Court
- Attend the Court Hearing
- Removal Through a Warrant of Restitution
Provide the Tenant a Notice of Termination
Before filing a suit in court, you must provide the tenant with proper notice of your intent to evict them from the property. This notice informs them of the reason for the lease termination and provides a set timeframe in which they must vacate. Generally, this is anywhere from 3 to 30 days, depending on the situation and state restrictions. That said, landlords have a few different types of notice to choose from depending on the circumstances. These common forms of eviction notices include:
- Cure or Quit – Tenant must correct a lease violation within a certain time or must vacate.
- Pay or Quit – Tenant must pay rent within usually three to five days or vacate.
- Unconditional Quit – Tenant must vacate without an opportunity to fix the violation or catch up on rent.
File a Complaint in District Court
If a tenant does not comply with the cure or quit, formal eviction is required. Therefore, landlords need to file a written complaint with the court. These documents outline the property owner’s legal standing to evict the current tenant from the rental property. Furthermore, the complaint will list any back rent or damages the landlords are seeking through the courts.
Summons is Issued by the Court
Once the complaint is filed, the county sheriff sends a legal court summons to your tenant. It informs them that they must appear in court on a specific day. Thus, this is their chance to respond to the complaint, describe their defense, and possibly outline allegations against the landlord. It is not uncommon for tenants to attempt a variety of tactics to stay in the home. However, a landlord’s best defense is to fulfill their obligations under the lease and retain impeccable records.
Attend the Court Hearing
At the court hearing, a judge will hear both sides of the story and make their decision. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant is ordered to vacate the property, usually within 4 to 5 days. Ideally, the tenant will vacate on their own after the court order. However, this is not always the case, and property owners may need to take further action.
Removal Through a Warrant of Restitution
If he tenants fail to leave within the specified timeframe, the landlord still cannot forcibly remove them on their own. Instead, property owners must ask the court for a Warrant of Restitution. This document instructs the sheriff to physically escort your tenants off of the property.
Common Eviction Mistakes
Every landlord would agree that when a tenant fails to pay or becomes unruly, you want them out as quickly as possible. So, to speed up the process, some property owners resort to their own tactics. This is not only potentially dangerous but illegal. Let’s take a look below at a few common eviction mistakes, even the most experienced landlords can make.
- No Evidence to Support Complaint
- Not Giving Proper Notice
- Tenant Withholding Rent for Legitimate Reason
- Self-Help Eviction
- Retaliatory Eviction
- Discriminatory Eviction
No Evidence to Support Complaint
Not having documented evidence is a common mistake landlords make when evicting their Maryland rental property tenant. For example, it is a waste of time to file in court stating your tenant has not been paying rent if you have no bank statements or correspondence to back it up. Ultimately, the landlord must prove an eviction is just and right. With that in mind, below we list a few helpful documents owners should have immediate access to for every rental property and tenant:
- Signed Lease Agreement
- Copy of Notice to Cease
- Notice to Quit
- Bank Statements
- All Tenant Correspondence
- Pictures of Damage
- Complaints from Other Tenants
- Additional Evidence to Support Eviction
So, if you do not provide proper documentation that your tenant is deserving of an eviction, they may be allowed to stay. This could prove detrimental to your rental property business and could have lasting effects on your positive cash flow.
Not Giving Proper Notice
Before you file an eviction complaint with the District Court, you must provide the tenant with a proper “Notice to Vacate.” This informs tenants that they have “x” number of days to vacate the property, or you will begin eviction proceedings against them. Furthermore, the Notice to Vacate outlines the reason for the eviction. Sometimes, through no fault of the tenant, a property must be vacated.
If you do not provide the correct amount of advanced notice, landlords have an uphill battle towards eviction. Whether it is warranted or not, failure to follow procedure results in lost time and money.
Tenant Withholding Rent for a Legitimate Reason
Property owners must make necessary repairs to maintain the property’s safety and standard of habitability. Failing to do so means a tenant can withhold rent in escrow until the issue is resolved. However, this is not the same as standard nonpayment of rent, which is an enforceable reason to evict someone. Instead, landlords must complete repairs or resolve the problem before the rent can be released from escrow. Therefore, when the tenant has a legitimate complaint or concern, the landlord cannot retaliate by filing for eviction.
Maryland state law forbids property owners from taking eviction matters into their own hands. So, if you personally attempt to force a tenant off of the property, you may face legal troubles of your own. Common examples of illegal self-help evictions include:
- Changing the property’s locks so the tenant cannot gain entry
- Removing the front door
- Turning off essential utilities such as the water, heat, or electricity
- Removing the tenant’s personal possessions from the property
- Harassing the tenant in hopes of convincing them to leave of their own accord
- Making threats toward the tenant
Self-help evictions are not only illegal, but they are also potentially dangerous. Landlords cannot predict how a tenant will react to your kicking them out onto the streets with all of their belongings. In this case, safety should take priority. Therefore, let the courts handle the eviction proceedings so that it is done in a professional, safe, and legal way.
There are several reasons why owners would want to evict their Maryland tenant. That said, not all are legally valid reasons. According to Maryland’s eviction laws, you cannot arbitrarily increase the rent or decrease services agreed to in the lease. Additionally, solely seeking eviction for any of the following reasons is illegal:
- Due to the tenant being a member of a tenants’ organization;
- Solely because tenant filed suit against the landlord; or
- The tenant filed a complaint with code enforcement or other housing agency
- Because the tenant consulted a lawyer on a matter involving the tenant’s rights.
- In any eviction proceeding, if the judgment is for the tenant based on any of the above defenses, the court may order the landlord to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs for the tenant (Section 9-10(c)).
Attempting to evict your tenant for any of the above-outlined reasons is grounds for what is called ‘Retaliatory Eviction”. In some cases, such retaliation may prevent you from pursuing any eviction procedures against that particular tenant in the future.
Simply put, you cannot evict any tenant based solely on your feelings towards any Fair Housing protected classes. In fact, doing so opens the landlord to a justified lawsuit from the tenant. Under Fair Housing laws, protected classes vary slightly from state to state. So, be sure to research the laws in your area. Generally speaking, individuals are protected against discrimination based on the following:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Added Examples of Protected Classes at the State Level –
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Source of income
Can I Get My Tenants to Move Without Eviction?
Occasionally, attempting to settle the problem without an official eviction is a favorable option for landlords and tenants. Sometimes, tenants know and acknowledge they are in the wrong. Therefore, they may be eager to accept an alternative to avoid an eviction on their record. Consider these eviction free options below:
- Cash for Keys Incentive
- Offer Assistance
- Proper Communication
Cash for Keys Incentive
Offering a “cash for keys” incentive avoids eviction by getting your tenant to move out voluntarily. That said, it will cost you, but avoiding the lengthy eviction process can save money in the long run. However, it is likely worth it if you need to quickly get the tenant out of the property. Using this method, owners pay the tenant directly to leave your property. Sound promising? Check out our blog for more information, along with additional pros and cons for cash for keys incentive.
Conveying empathy towards your tenant’s situation can mean the difference between contention and a smooth transition. As an investor, you may have connections to other rental properties in the area or discounted services such as moving trucks and storage. So, if you have access to helpful resources, consider offering them to your tenants. By approaching tenants with a positive, helpful attitude, they will hopefully feel more comfortable with the idea of leaving.
When it comes to handling issues, direct is best! So, simply ask the tenants to move out and gauge their response. Most tenants prefer to avoid conflict, especially if it means maintaining good credit. Therefore, try calmly (but firmly) explaining the situation. When the tenant must go due to unacceptable behavior or extenuating circumstances beyond your control, giving a thorough explanation is critical. Remember that open channels of communication between yourself and your tenants at all times is extremely important.
No one wants to have to go through eviction proceedings. However, landing in court because you conducted yourself illegally when it came to eviction mistakes is far worse. So, if you own rental property in Maryland, consider enlisting the help of Maryland’s premier property management company. Bay Property Management Group has a solid background in Maryland’s rental property laws, including the eviction procedures.
Evictions are a serious matter. Bay Property Management Group takes a swift and professional approach to guarantee a smooth legal process. Our dedicated team handles the entire process from start to finish, so you don’t have to! Give us a call today, and let us provide you peace of mind when the unfortunate happens.