Maryland is one of the dozens of states that have what is commonly known as a “repair and deduct” law on the books. Designed to protect tenants against negligent landlords, this law includes strict guidelines that dictate what types of repairs a property owner is responsible for, the steps tenants can take, and the conditions under which tenants can legally withhold rent payments related to maintenance issues.
Legal Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants
Landlords in Maryland have a legal obligation to keep their properties ‘habitable’ – that means ensuring that the unit is safe, includes basic utilities, and is reasonably free of major defects that could impact the tenants’ “quiet enjoyment”. This includes extermination services in multi-tenant properties, ventilation, heating, and lighting.
Tenants also have responsibilities with regards to the maintenance of their rental property, namely, they need to keep their unit “in a clean and sanitary condition”; store and dispose of their rubbish in a way that complies with local laws; and pest extermination in single-occupancy structures.
What Is Rent Escrow?
According to the Maryland Code, Real Property Section 8-211 “Maryland law requires landlords to repair and eliminate conditions that are a serious threat to the life, health, or safety of occupants”.
In situations where a property owner has failed to complete the necessary maintenance and repairs needed to keep their rental units safe and habitable, tenants can take steps to hold their landlord accountable in court.
Under this law, tenants have the right to commence legal action against their landlords through their local district court. Rather than pay their rent to their landlord, tenants pay their usual rent into an escrow account that is held by the court until a judge reviews the claims made by the tenant, and the response from the landlord in question.
What’s Covered Under The Repair & Deduct Law
Rent escrow is designed to be used in situations where dangerous conditions exist, such as:
- A lack of heat, power, or water
- Unchecked rodent infestation in a multi-unit structure
- Structural defects that pose a threat to health and safety
- The presence of lead paint
- Inadequate sewage disposal
Similarly, rent escrow does not apply to minor maintenance issues including:
- Small cracks in walls
- Faded or old paint
- Discolored carpets and flooring
- Lack of air conditioning
- Cosmetic issues with the property
Steps In The Escrow Process
Contrary to what some tenants may believe, they cannot simply withhold their rent to force a landlord to perform maintenance on their unit or rental building.
Tenants must begin the escrow process by putting their complaints in writing and then allowing a reasonable amount of time for the repairs to be made. In general, the courts expect that all safety-related repairs will be attended to in 30 days or less.
If a landlord fails to act within a reasonable amount of time, the tenant can make an application to the court to commence the escrow process. A hearing will then be held, and the judge will make a ruling that could include a reduction in rent for the tenant, termination of the tenants’ lease, or an order to the landlord that immediate repairs be made.
For more information about our rental property services in York, Lancaster, Cumberland, Dauphin, and nearby counties in Maryland, contact Bay Property Management Group Prince George’s County today!