Your Howard County rental agreements are just that, legally binding contractual “agreements” between two consenting parties, the landlord and tenant.
It is with this understanding that landlords should be aware that while there are many laws protecting the rights of property owners against broken lease provisions done on behalf of tenants, that tenants have rights offering protection against overbearing, illegally acting landlords as well.
This means tenants can sue, and in many cases rightfully so.
Today we will take a look at five reasons your Howard County tenant may feel the need to bring a lawsuit against you as their landlord so that you can avoid ever finding yourself facing your tenants in court.
There are many instances when a landlord is in full compliance with the law when it comes to evicting a problem tenant. A landlord can seek to evict a tenant from a rental unit for non-payment of rent, failing to move out at the end of a lease term, or for breaching any of the agreed to lease provisions.
However, it is important to understand that evicting a tenant is a legal process and must be followed correctly in order to prevent a tenant from later suing you for wrongful eviction. Here are some wrongful eviction instances in which a tenant may hold legal grounds to sue you for costs and damages in a court of law:
Taking possession of your Howard County rental property, increasing rent, or decreasing a provided service (such as utilities) to a tenant who has filed a complaint with the Government Authority, has involvement in a Tenant’s Organization, has filed a lawsuit against the landlord for an unrelated issue, or has notified the landlord about potential lead hazards in the property (including the notification that a child with elevated lead blood levels resides at the property) are all considered retaliatory and make great cases for tenants to rightfully sue you.
- Not Following State Eviction Procedures
You do not have the authority to move any of your tenant’s belongings out of your rental property, change the locks, or cut off utilities to the home without a court order from the District Court. There is paperwork to file and certain guidelines to follow when it comes to proper eviction proceedings. You cannot simply kick your tenant out on the street, regardless of whether your reasons for eviction are valid or not.
If you wrongfully evict a tenant from your rental property be prepared for them to sue you for incurred damages related to the eviction, court costs, attorney fees, and much more.
Breach of Quiet Enjoyment
According to Maryland law, unless your rental property lease agreement specifies otherwise, there is an implied covenant or warranty that is built into every lease agreement that ensures your tenant “quiet enjoyment” of the premises while leasing the home. This means that tenants are guaranteed the right to live in peace without privacy violations or harassment from the landlord.
If you commit any of the following types of behaviors towards your tenants, you may find yourself facing a court summons:
- Interruption of utilities such as electricity or water.
- Improper entry into your property.
- Letting others into the residence without due notice or consent.
- Violation of rights via gossip.
- Showing up at a tenant’s workplace to discuss landlord/tenant-related issues.
Should you breach your tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the premises, and your tenant feels compelled to leave the property, you may be held responsible for all expenses related to this “constructive eviction.” This would include all moving-related costs, attorney’s fees, filing fees, and any other monetary compensation awarded your tenant resulting from the legal actions taken against you.
All states, with the exception of Arkansas, give tenants the opportunity to rightfully sue their landlord should they provide an uninhabitable residence. Specifically, Maryland law dictates that all lease agreements have a statement guaranteeing the tenant a home that is reasonably safe and is in a habitable condition. It must also come with a statement disclosing the condition of the property in its entirety, both good and bad.
Conditions that may be deemed serious in nature and uninhabitable for tenant occupation include:
- Lack of heat, light, electricity or water (not due to tenant’s failure to pay).
- Lack of sewage disposal.
- Severe rodent infestation.
- Lead paint hazards not addressed properly by the landlord according to state law.
- Structural defects posing a serious threat to your tenants’ physical safety.
- Any condition posing as serious health or fire risk.
While there are certainly some inconveniences that tenants may wish the landlord to address quickly, such as cosmetic defects or small maintenance repairs, and certainly fixing those issues is good customer service, only in the above-mentioned scenarios should you become concerned about a tenant rightfully suing you and winning compensation.
Illegal Use of Tenant’s Credit
If you are a landlord, violating the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act legislation could mean serious court time for you should your tenant decide to take legal action. Commonly used as a way to screen potential tenants for your Howard County rental property, consumer reports are also used in other areas of the rental process such as during eviction proceedings. It is important to note the many violations that can occur while utilizing a tenant’s consumer reports so as to not violate any of their rights:
- Not reporting tenants to the credit bureau.
- Denying an application for unwarranted reasons that may later affect the tenant’s ability to lease a home elsewhere.
- Requiring a co-signer when unnecessary.
- Filing unnecessary or wrongful eviction actions.
- Failure to send appropriate rejection letters outlining the reason for an application denial.
- Requiring a higher deposit amount than is normal for other applicants.
Becoming familiar with all federal credit reporting laws is an important step for all landlords hoping to avoid being sued by their tenants.
One of the most contended disputes between landlord and tenant in the housing court system are the issues concerning security deposits. A known and regular procedure for almost all rental agreements, there is much to be said about security deposit best practices.
However, the takeaway point for landlords looking to avoid a court dispute is the Maryland Property Code stating that a landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit within 45 days, less any properly accounted for damages, after the tenancy ends. If the landlord fails to return said deposit in time, a tenant has the right to sue the landlord for up to 3x the withheld monetary amount plus reasonable court fees.
If you are looking to avoid any of the above situations involving your tenants, a housing court judge, and possible monetary compensation awarded to the opposing party, contact Howard County’s top property management team.
Bay Management Group has offices providing 24/7 support for property management services in Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia and surrounding counties in PA and MD. Our staff is knowledgeable and up-to-date on all federal and state laws regarding eviction proceedings and security deposits, has years of experience drafting legally compliant rental property lease agreements that include all of MD & PA required lease provisions, and understands that your tenants want a peaceful place to live and you just want peace of mind.
Don’t stress about facing your tenants in court. Bay Management Group has all of the necessary resources to avoid such situations, and should you be summoned to a court hearing, you can rest assured it is not because you are being rightfully sued by your tenant, rather it is with Bay Management Group backing you and your landlord rights.