Retaliatory eviction is not legal in any state. Most states have laws to protect tenants from this happening, including in Maryland. Maryland has regulations in place to stop evictions from occurring due to retaliation. Learn about retaliatory evictions in Harford County, MD, and how to avoid them below!
What is retaliatory eviction?
Retaliatory eviction is when a landlord evicts a tenant without legal cause, or a tenant has not broken any terms of the lease. Generally, it occurs when the landlord doesn’t agree with the tenant, or there is some form of personal conflict between the two parties. These are some examples of reasons for retaliatory eviction:
- Calling Health & Safety Department: If a tenant calls the Health and Safety Department due to the condition of their living space and the landlord responds by evicting them because of it, it is a retaliatory eviction. The tenant is well within their rights to contact these departments if they believe their living space isn’t safe or up to health code.
- Reporting to Code Enforcement: This is another way a tenant may reach out to discuss health or safety code violations. Again, a landlord cannot evict a tenant for reporting them and their property.
- Rent Escrow: A tenant is within their rights to pay into a rent escrow account due to unsafe living conditions if a court grants them escrow. A landlord may not evict them for this reason. If the building is proven to be up to code and they are still withholding rent, this is when an eviction is legally justified.
- Complaining to Neighbors: If a tenant strongly believes the landlord is wrong about a rent increase, living conditions, or any other property-related issue and they inform other tenants, this is not grounds for eviction. Of course, it’s frustrating if they cause discontent among other tenants, but it is within their rights to do so.
How Can a Tenant Prove Retaliatory Eviction?
If a tenant proves retaliatory eviction in court, not only will the eviction be stopped, but you and your property management company may be liable for fines or other legal consequences. Plus, it will give you a bad reputation and scare off potential tenants. How exactly can a tenant prove this in court?
The tenant simply needs to prove that the eviction at hand is not a result of a lease violation. Most states will side with tenants in these cases because proof tends to be relatively black and white. Tenants would show communications between them and their landlord in which the landlord threatens or pursues eviction, but doesn’t state the legal basis for it.
To evict, a landlord needs to serve a Notice to Quit. Legally, this notice must include the lease violation, the date served, and the date the tenant needs to move out. Failure to serve the notice or serving a notice without valid lease violations will result in a tenant win in court.
Other reasons a tenant will win in court include proof of health and safety violations resulting in claims with code enforcement and valid rent escrow cases. Also, proving harassment after joining a tenant union or other tenant rights group.
It is relatively straightforward for landlords to determine if their reasons for eviction are legitimate. Follow the book for eviction and go by the law — never let your feelings about the tenant guide this process. If you follow the code strictly, this will never be an issue.
Other Acts of Retaliatory Behavior
Even if you don’t evict, but you demonstrate other forms of retaliatory behavior towards your tenant, they can take you to court. Examples of landlord acts of retaliation:
- Increasing Rent: Generally, rent increases are only permitted at the time of renewal and never mid-lease. A month-to-month lease does allow for increase provided there is a 30-day notice for tenants. Any attempt to raise rents mid-lease could be considered an act of retaliation.
- Threatening or Harassing Behavior: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Any inappropriate conduct from a landlord to a tenant is an act of retaliation. Documents verbal and physical threats will result in favor of the tenant and allow them to end their lease early, leaving you with a vacancy and more lawsuits.
- Cutting Off Utilities or Amenities: Cutting off utilities or other amenities without reason is illegal for a landlord to do. Some landlords might do this in an attempt to make the living experience uncomfortable to the point that the tenant just moves out, but that is retaliatory behavior and against the law. This falls under self-help eviction as well. Even if you have a legal reason to evict, property procedures must be followed, or a judge will rule in favor of the tenant.
- Non-Renewing without Cause: Failing to renew a tenant’s lease without cause is another act of retaliation. Unless there is a clause in the lease that states the landlord can non-renew without reason, it is not legal. Some contracts may state that the landlord can non-renew due to consistent late payments, lousy tenant behavior, or damages to the property. Having a clause that permits this would be the only proper way to non-renew.
Common Eviction Mistakes
When it comes to eviction, retaliatory eviction is just one of several common eviction mistakes landlords can make. Avoid these mistakes!
- Self-Help Eviction: This means doing anything to force the resident out without legally filing for eviction. Some examples are harassment and bullying, shutting utilities off, changing the locks, removing their belongings, or anything else of that nature that is outside the legal process.
- Lack of Legal Representation: As a landlord, you are likely up-to-date on eviction laws. However, it’s always safest to hire an eviction attorney to represent you and ensure compliance with the laws and proper procedures.
- Withholding Security Deposit: Tenants have a legal right to their security deposit unless they owe past due rent or to cover damage beyond normal wear and tear, and the security deposit is needed to cover costs. Landlords cannot withhold security deposits for eviction unless it’s to cover past due rent or substantial property damage
How to Legally Evict in Harford County
You now understand what falls under retaliation acts/eviction and how to avoid them! So, how do you legally evict a tenant in Harford County, MD? Strictly follow this process.
- Draft a Notice to Quit – The first step in the eviction process is to draft a notice to quit. The notice must include the date written, date of move-out, and the specific clause of the lease violation
- Serve the Notice to Quit – The next step would be to serve the notice to quit. You can do this in person or by posting it. Posting is generally the best option as you can photograph where you posted it (usually on the tenant’s door) with a time-stamped photo in case you need it in court.
- Eviction Court – If the tenant either doesn’t pay the outstanding balance (if the lease break is payment related) or refuses to move out, you still can’t force eviction on them. The next step is to take them to court with proof of their lease violations. With sufficient evidence, a judge will side with the landlord and order the tenant to vacate the property right away.
- Tenant Hold-Over, Next Steps – Unfortunately, landlords sometimes have to deal with a tenant holding over. This means the tenant has a court order to move, but still isn’t following it. The next and final step here is to call the local sheriff. The sheriff is the only one that can legally enter the property and forcefully remove the tenant and their belongings.
If you’re a Harford County landlord looking to avoid eviction mistakes, consider hiring a Harford County property manager. Bay Property Management Group Harford County offers full-service property management including rent collection, delinquencies, and eviction services.