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While renting a house or apartment might relieve you of certain responsibilities like property taxes and major repairs, you may still be facing various problems maintaining your home. Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com

The nonprofit Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) connects Marylanders facing financial hardships with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals, and community partners to deliver free civil legal assistance because there should be justice for all, not just for those who can afford it. In this regular column, MVLS’s leaders will answer your civil legal questions.

The requirements are simple— we can only answer questions of a general nature focused on civil law— not criminal law— and we cannot provide legal advice through this column.

Question: “I am worried about eviction. What are the current rules regarding evictions and are there any protections in place to help me from a legal standpoint?”

Answer: While renting a house or apartment might relieve you of certain responsibilities like property taxes and major repairs, you may still be facing various problems maintaining your home. For this reason, it’s important to know your rights as a tenant and where you can get legal and rental assistance. Due to COVID-19, an increase of evictions is expected in the next several months. For a legal eviction to occur, the landlord must have a valid reason. In Maryland, grounds for eviction are failure to pay rent, tenant holding over, and breach of lease.

In a “Failure to Pay Rent” case, unless required in your lease, your landlord does not have to send you notice before filing a complaint with the court, which is the first step in the eviction process. In a “Tenant Holding Over” action, the landlord sues to evict you claiming you have refused to move even though the lease term has ended. Your landlord must give you notice in writing that they are not renewing your lease before the lease ends.

In a “Breach of Lease” action, your landlord sues to evict you claiming you have failed to follow conditions or terms of your lease. For example, your landlord may claim there is someone living in your home, who is not listed in the lease or there has been criminal activity in your home. Before suing you for breach of lease, your landlord must give you written notice that you are in violation of the lease and ask you to move. In Maryland, eviction is only legal if the landlord goes to court and obtains a judgment and a sheriff is present at the time the tenant is removed from the apartment or house.

Illegal evictions include the landlord changing the locks, shutting off utilities, removing personal possessions, and/or boarding windows and doors. Any of these actions or other actions taken by the landlord are illegal and you should seek legal assistance immediately. Rental evictions are temporarily prohibited if the tenant has a verifiable and substantial loss of income related to COVID-19, pursuant to Governor Hogan’s executive order. You would have to show the landlord a document or letter that you lost your job, or qualify for unemployment.

Additionally, if you make any payments, it is important to ask for receipts and keep records. It is also important to attend all court hearings; do not let the landlord tell you that you do not need to appear. For legal assistance with landlord-tenant matters, contact the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center at 410-260- 1392, which is open Monday-Friday.