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Disclaimer: This is general information about Maryland law. It is not legal advice, and there is no attorney-client relationship until you meet with an attorney and sign a retainer. Effective legal advice depends on understanding the unique facts of your situation. If you have a legal question, get advice from a lawyer before proceeding. That is the best advice we can ever give you.
Last month, we discussed the basics of what to look for before signing a lease. This month, we will cover things that come up after you sign the lease. Remember, this article is based on Maryland law. However, the practical advice in here is good no matter where you rent.
Security Deposit: Tenants have to provide a security deposit. This money protects the landlord from damages he or she may suffer when the tenant vacates the premises. It is not to be used for the last month’s rent, which many people try to do. It has to be placed in a separate bank account. A security deposit cannot be for more than two months rent. It is usually only one month’s rent. If a tenant is overcharged, they can sue and recover three times the amount withheld. This is called treble damages and is designed to make sure the landlord follows the rules by imposing a stiff penalty if they do not. If you are a landlord, you don’t want to give the tenant any ammunition against you.
Receipt: You must receive a receipt for your security deposit, which can be written into the lease. Language in the lease such as receipt of which is hereby acknowledged is a standard way to do that. The landlord must keep your deposit in a separate account and must return it to you with 3 percent interest within 45 days of vacating the premises. This is important when you move out. We will cover that in the next newsletter issue.
Pre-Existing Damages: Damages to the leased property are an often litigated issue after a tenant leaves. A house or apartment may have pre-existing damage. You should make sure it is documented as pre-existing so you do not have to pay for it at the end of your lease. You have some rights to protect yourself from this problem. You can request a list of damages from the landlord within 15 days of taking possession. You must specifically ask for it, and should do so in writing. You should also take your own inventory of damages, and send it to the landlord (again, in writing) asking them to discuss it with you if they disagree.
Take Pictures: Most importantly, before you move in the first piece of furniture, take lots of pictures of the apartment from various angles so you can prove the condition on the day you move in. You should do this again when you move out. Take up close pictures of anything damaged. A picture will prove whether any damage existed before you moved in, and what condition it was in. This is far better than a written list, although you should get both.
Pay Your Rent: Be sure to pay your rent on time and keep in contact with your landlord. You will hurt your credit if you pay late. If you need a couple of extra days, tell the landlord and pay the late fee (which cannot be more than 5% of the amount due). If the landlord does not hear from you, they assume the worst. They have probably been burned before, or heard horror stories about it. They will usually file suit. That hurts your credit. If you are honest, stay in contact and they may cut you a break.
Repairs: Tenants should report any repairs needed immediately. If something goes wrong, do all you can to minimize damage to the premises. For instance, do not allow a broken water line leak for two days and cause thousands of dollars in damages. Shut off the water to prevent more damage until it can get fixed. Treat the house like it was yours and your landlord will appreciate it. If you cause major damage because of your own negligence, you may be sued by the landlord, or worse, by their insurance company! That will be a painful and expensive lesson.
In Maryland, if a tenant experiences major problems that make the house dangerous, such as lack of heat or water, and the landlord does not fix them after notice, the tenant can go to Court to force the landlord to make the repairs. But do not try this without consulting an attorney. It will make your landlord angry, so you have to be sure. And only really major problems are covered, not things like the garbage disposal or washer/dryer. Some counties have special local laws on this subject. An attorney will know how to advise you, as each of these cases are unique.
If you follow these guidelines and use common sense, your rental experience should be a pleasant one. If you run into a problem, or have questions, we strongly recommend paying for a legal consultation. Next month, legal issues when the lease ends.
You are receiving this newsletter because you signed up for it, or you are a client of our firm. We do not spam. If you wish to unsubscribe, please follow the directions below. This content is written by Tucker Clagett, a Partner at Andrews, Bongar, Starkey & Clagett, a full service law firm with offices in Waldorf & Lexington Park. If you have questions or comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email him directly at Clagett at SouthernMarylandLaw.com. Thank you for reading.