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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Being sued by a former landlord for property damages? Important steps you can take

“I lost my job during the pandemic and was evicted. Now, my former landlord is trying to sue me saying I made damages to the property that I didn’t do. What do I do?”

The pandemic has been tough on a lot of Marylanders. Many of us suffered a loss in income, got behind on our bills, fell ill to COVID-19, or lost a loved one to the virus. While our federal, state, and local governments worked to provide needed services, many of us have suffered severe economic losses still being felt today. This article addresses the needs of renters who were evicted during the pandemic and are being sued by a former landlord for damage to the rental property. 

To take legal action against a former tenant, the landlord must file a complaint against the tenant. The landlord will have to complete a complaint form and pay the filing fee with the District Court. The complaint must be filed in the District Court where the property is located. The landlord will either hire a private process server, pay for service by Sheriff, or file by using certified mail. The court will then issue a summons.

If you doubt your former landlord’s case, you should file the “Notice of Intention to Defend.” This notice will be attached to your summons. You should complete the form with a brief description of your side of the case and return the notice to the District Court. 

After returning your “Notice of Intention to Defend,” consider these five questions:

-Did your landlord provide proof of the alleged damages? If you disagree with your former landlord’s statements in the complaint, or their attached evidence, start gathering your evidence to the contrary. 

-Do you disagree with the basis of your former landlord’s case? It is essential to provide the District Court judge with proof (copies of checks, pictures, bank statements, etc.).  

 -Does the security deposit you paid to the landlord when you moved into the property cover the alleged damage? 

-Was the alleged damage to the property beyond ordinary wear and tear? Your landlord should not charge you for marks or scuffs on walls, filling small holes in walls from hanging pictures, normal wear to carpeted areas, or the appearance of major appliances with normal use. 

-Do you believe your former landlord owes you money? If yes, file a counterclaim! You are required to file your counterclaim within 10 days of the filing deadline of the “Notice of Intention to Defend.”

Negotiation and Mediation— If you owe the former landlord money, you should consider negotiating with them. Negotiating with someone that evicted you can be challenging, but it is possible. 

There are several benefits to negotiating. For example, you could reach an amicable agreement, save yourself money (attorney’s fees, interest, etc.), avoid possible wage garnishment, and avoid potential damage to your credit.

Mediation is another option where a neutral third party works with you and the landlord to resolve the dispute. 

Consider Getting Legal Assistance— This legal process can be overwhelming for many people. You may qualify for legal assistance from an organization like Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. Please visit the website to learn more www.mvlslaw.org.

Phillip Westry is a staff attorney at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service with the Baltimore Health Corps Program. MVLS focuses on housing, consumer, family, estate, tax, and criminal record relief issues for Marylanders. MVLS can be reached at www.mvlslaw.org or 410-547-6537 Mondays-Thursdays between 9am and 12pm.

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed in this column? Email [email protected] to submit your question to the Baltimore Times’ legal tip column.

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