Changes are coming to the Rent Court System for Baltimore City and possibly the entire State of Maryland. Last year, the Public Justice Center, (Mayoral primary candidate Elizabeth Embry serves on the Board of the Public Justice Center) published a study portraying the rent court system as being heavily slanted in favor of landlords and detrimental to tenants. Click Here to Download the Public Justice Center Study on Rent Court. Following this study, State Senator Catherine Pugh (who, most likely, will be the next Mayor of Baltimore City), Senator Joan Carter Conway, and Senator Nathaniel McFadden co-sponsored, Senate Bill 801 in the 2016 Maryland General Assembly legislative session. The bill was withdrawn and referred to “Summer Study”. Summer Study is a process where opposing parties meet numerous times to discuss the issue at hand and work towards mutually agreed upon solutions.
Senate Bill 801 would have:
- Redefined “Rent” as only the monthly rent payment – utility charges, damages, and late charges would not be included in a rent case.
- Required landlords keep two payment record keeping systems – one for rent, and one for “non-rent” charges such as late fees, court costs, citations, damages, utilities, etc. The landlord’s case would be dismissed if the landlord is not able to produce this dual record-keeping system.
- Required the Landlord to send a “notice of default” to the tenant by both certified mail and first class mail, notifying the tenant that the rent is late and give the tenant 14 days to rectify the default. The notice to the tenant must include a record of the tenant’s account, a copy of the rental registration statement, a copy of the lead certificate, and a list of non-profit legal service organizations that the tenant may avail themselves of.
- Forced landlords to wait until the 15th day after sending the above “notice of default” to file a rent notice in rent court.
- Required the landlord prove the property is in compliance with the lead program (now we just have to provide a certificate number) and prove the property is properly registered.
- Required the landlord to provide the court with a copy of the notice of default and a copy of the certified mail receipt,
- Held the trial 10 days after filing the complaint (it is now 7 days)
- Permitted the tenant to delay the trial for 7 days if the tenant is waiting for rental payment assistance from a public agency.
- Increased the cost of filing a rent notice by adding a $30 surcharge, which is used to fund free tenant legal services. While the landlord can charge the tenant the cost of filing a court notice, the landlord may not pass on the cost of the tenant legal services surcharge.
In 1993, the Lead Paint issue was referred to summer study and the result was the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, a progressive, landmark legislation which reduced liability for landlords who met certain criteria for delivering lead-safe housing (at least until the law was undermined by the courts) and is credited with contributing to Maryland’s 98% reduction in the number of children diagnosed with lead-poisoning each year. I was involved in the Property Owners Association at the time this law was negotiated.
Now, I have been asked to participate in the summer study group to look at the rent court situation. I would appreciate your taking a moment to write down your stories and frustrations with the rent court system. Please be specific and to the point. Your stories will help provide balance to this discussion. Please send by e-mail with the subject line “Rent Court”. Summer study gives all sides (the landlords, the tenant advocates, the sheriffs, and the court administrators) a chance to express their point of view. At the end of the summer, legislation can be proposed, which will be supported by all interested parties, and result in a better system . Tenant advocates will likely argue to make the court system more tenant-friendly, and landlords will be presenting a point of view that advocates fairness in a way that promotes the ability of landlords to provide clean, decent, and affordable housing to those in need.
Thank you, in advance, for your thoughts, insights, perspective, and experience.