Dealing with Conflicts with a Landlord and Filing Suit
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One of the facts of life in a rental situation is that there is no substitute for a good landlord or a good tenant. Laws can define the relationship and the responsibilities of each party but there are always situations that are best resolved by being decent, courteous, and fair.
Landlords often make a credit check, ask for references, and check with tenant's previous landlord in order to lessen the chance of having "problem" tenants. It is also good for tenants to check a prospective landlord for the same reason. One way to do this is to interview a few current tenants. Another way is to ask friends and acquaintances how their landlord treats them, and if they are pleased, then contact that landlord to see available units that would interest you. Below are some ways landlords and tenants can work together to solve problems before a confrontation erupts:
- The landlord should make an effort to communicate reasonably with the tenant. Such communication should be diplomatic in approach and thorough in explanation. Lack of proper communication is a major source of tension between tenant and landlord. Some examples:
- Problems have arisen at an apartment complex. Tenants have paid for certain services (such as air conditioning) which management fails to provide. Tenants as individuals have a hard time getting management to listen to them, so they form a tenant association. Management refuses to meet with tenant representatives and communication breaks down even further.
- Landlord needs more time to make repairs but doesn't inform the tenant.
- Air-conditioning breaks down and is off for a month in mid-summer. Management does not explain and is evasive about when it might be fixed.
- A major problem develops with the water lines to a development. Without warning or explanation, management shuts off water for two days.
- Management sends eviction notices claiming violation of lease. Tenants have not been forewarned of any complaints against them.
- A landlord who has been paying the water bill for some time suddenly sends the water bill to the tenant without explanation and without the notice required by law.
- Many form letters that landlords use are curt, poorly written, and cause unnecessary resentment. Landlords claim they are too busy to do otherwise, but the complications arising from this approach may cause greater problems. With a little thought, a form letter could say the same thing but in a way to minimize resentment.
- The landlord should present the tenant with a fair and reasonable lease, in compliance with Maryland law. The lease should be concisely written, in easy-to-understand language, and should clearly outline the responsibilities of tenant and landlord. Landlord should take time to go over the lease with the tenant so all parties understand what they are agreeing to. Landlord should give a copy of the lease to the prospective tenant prior to signing so the tenant can review without pressure. After signing, all parties should keep a signed copy of the lease.
- The landlord should give to each tenant a written copy of any "rules and regulations" in addition to the lease. The rules should be reasonable. It is acknowledged that some rules are more important than others are, and that certain situations call for waiving of the rules. For example, management may insert a "no pet" rule but allow those who already have pets to keep them.
- The landlord should keep his promise to fix up or repair the dwelling. Occasionally such promises are made as an inducement before the tenant moves in, and then are either not kept or the landlord takes months to complete repairs.
- The landlord should give proper notice in writing, as required by law, when he wants to raise the rent or terminate the lease.
- The landlord should not abuse legal process. For example, some landlords who want to get rid of a tenant quickly, will, instead of giving proper notice, refuse to accept the rent and then take the tenant to court for non-payment of rent and an eviction.
- The landlord should return the security deposit as soon as possible after the tenant has vacated the premises, and not wait until the expiration of the 45-day deadline period. The landlord should be sure that any deductions from the security deposit are fair, are for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear, and that the deductions are adequately explained. The security deposit law covers the rights of both parties.
- The landlord should not retaliate against the tenant because the tenant has complained against the landlord to a public agency or has formed or joined a tenant association.
Tenant associations are no threat to a decent and professional landlord, but are a way in which tenants and landlords can communicate with each other. If tenants' expectations are unreasonable they can be so informed through the association. The association in close cooperation with the landlord can make the apartment complex a better place to live.
When to File Suit
A civil action must generally be filed within 3 years from the date the cause of action arose, with the following exceptions of interest to tenants and landlords:
If the cause of action is based on a judgment of a court or on a lease under seal, the time limit is 12 years.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-102
A lease may be considered a document under seal if the word "seal" appears where the tenant and landlord sign their names.
If a person is kept in ignorance of a cause of action by the fraud of an adverse person, the cause of action is considered to arise when the first person discovers the fraud, or when by use of ordinary diligence he should have discovered the fraud.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-203
In the case of a minor or a mentally incompetent person, if the time limit for the cause of action is less than 3 years, then suit must be filed within that lesser period after the disability is removed. If the time limit is 3 years, the person has 3 years to file suit after the disability is removed. If the time limit still has more than 3 years to run when the disability is removed, then suit may be filed at any time during that longer period.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-201
Where to File Suit
A civil action may be brought in a county where the defendant "resides, carries on a regular business, is employed, or habitually engages in a vocation." A corporation also may be sued in the county where it maintains its principal Maryland office.
Where there is more than one defendant and more than one county eligible for filing suit, all defendants may be sued in the county where the cause of action arose or in the county where any one of them could be sued.
For the purposes of this law, "county" includes Baltimore City.
The following provisions are in addition to the above:
- An action for ejectment (eviction) may be brought in any county in which any portion of the land upon which the action is based is located.
- An action for the return of personal property which was wrongfully taken or wrongfully withheld may be brought in any county where the property is located.
- A civil action based on negligence may be brought where the cause of action arose.
- An action for damages against a non-resident of Maryland may be brought anywhere in Maryland.
- An action against a corporation which has no principle place of business in Maryland may be brought where the plaintiff resides.
- Attachment on original process (bringing property, wages, etc., under the authority of the court when a lawsuit is filed) may be brought where the property is located or where the person subject to the attachment resides.)