A Maryland residential lease agreement need not be in writing unless it is for more than one year. However, if you are leasing at least 5 units in Maryland, you are required to have a written lease for all tenants and abide by certain provisions. If you own less than 5 rental units, you still must adhere to the law regarding most landlord/tenant terms and provisions and not be unreasonable pertaining to any other issues not specifically provided for by statute.
You will in any event want a written contract to memorialize the arrangement and to ensure all parties understand the conditions and terms of your landlord/tenant relationship. A written lease should also set forth the rights of the parties, required notices and procedures regarding rent, security deposits, repairs and maintenance and matters affecting termination.
A landlord must abide by state and federal laws regarding discrimination. You cannot refuse to rent to someone nor treat current tenants differently on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, familial status or disability. You also may not retaliate against tenants who exercise their rights such as by joining a tenant’s union or complaining to authorities regarding the condition of the leased premises.
Landlords must provide a residence that is habitable and has essential services such as heat, hot water, electricity and functioning sewer systems. Tenants have a duty to maintain the unit in a clean and sanitary manner, to remove garbage and not damage or alter the premises without the landlord’s consent. Tenants must also respect and not interfere with other tenants’ rights to the quiet enjoyment of their leased units.
Required and Optional Maryland Lease Provisions
All Maryland residential lease agreements need certain terms but you can also add optional provisions so long as they do not waive or interfere with the rights of your tenants that are guaranteed. A comprehensive agreement is preferable over one with minimal terms since there are always circumstances that arise that can jeopardize the tenancy or create unwanted tensions and issues. If requested, you must provide a copy of the proposed lease to a prospective tenant.
Your lease should contain the following terms and provisions:
- Name of property owner and property manager and address where rent is to be paid as well as where notices and other legal documents may be served
- Names of the tenants and other occupants who will be living in the unit
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Residence will be available in a reasonably safe, habitable condition
- Automatic renewal clause—optional but must be distinct and set apart in the lease; needs signature or initials of tenant to be valid
- Amount of rent, due date, and grace period before a late fee may be imposed—no more than 5% of the rent
- Returned check fees—No statute
- Security deposit—limit of 2-months’ rent deposited in an escrow account, interest of 1.5% per year on deposits over $50; return within 45 days of tenant vacating residence; include receipt that deposit was received
- Receipt for security deposit (see below)
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance including maintaining common areas and code compliance and that heat, gas, electricity and water will be provided
- Obligations of tenant
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance
- Pet clause—a deposit may be nonrefundable. No deposit is permitted for service animals with some exceptions
- Subletting clause—if violated, landlord can double the rent
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers—3 days’ advance notice
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, if used for the sale or distribution of controlled substances and other lease violations
- Notice for increasing rent—30 days unless you state otherwise (may not be for a discriminatory purpose)
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
The Language in the Receipt for the Security Deposit Must Include the following:
- Right of tenant to have unit inspected by landlord with tenant at beginning of tenancy in order to create a list of existing damages; request by tenant for an inspection must be sent by certified mail within 15 days of initial possession
- Right of tenant to request by certified mail 15 days before the tenant vacates the residence to have a mutual inspection of the premises, which must occur within 5 days before or after the tenant’s intended moving date with landlord sending by certified mail the date of the inspection
- Itemized statement of damages and expenses if deducting from security deposit to be sent to last known address of tenant within 45 days after expiration of rental period
- Return within 45 days to the tenant of any unused portion of the security deposit
- Note that the Landlord’s failure to comply with security deposit law exposes landlord to damages up to 3 times the deposit amount plus attorney’s fees
Please note that individual counties and municipalities have ordinances that may require different obligations, notice periods and other provisions. Be sure to research the ordinances in your city or county to ensure proper compliance.
Prohibited Lease Terms
Landlords need to be aware of terms that may not legally be included in the lease or risk having to pay actual damages plus attorney’s fees to a tenant where an unenforceable or invalid provision is used to force a tenant to waive a right or which alters certain rights afforded tenants. Invalid provisions include the following:
- Have the tenant authorize another person to confess judgment on a claim arising from the lease
- Waive the right to sue landlord for not complying with housing or building codes
- Re-take possession of the premises absent legal process
- Have a shorter time for notice than authorized by statute
- Waive a jury trial (amount in controversy must be $5000 or more to allow for jury trial)
- Waive damages against the landlord
- Waive any right or remedy provided by statute or case law
- Allow entry at any time without notice or prior arrangements or shortening the time for notice
- Waive any section of the law regarding security deposits and its return
A security deposit cannot exceed two month’s rent and a receipt must be given to the tenant or be included in the lease with certain disclosures to be made as indicated in the above section on lease provisions. The deposit must be in a separate account in a federally insured financial institution with simple interest at 1.5% on deposits of more than $50 to accrue each month after 6 months.
A security deposit is used for damages caused by the tenant or guests that is beyond normal wear and tear. The tenant must mail a certified letter to the landlord requesting inspection of the unit at least 15 days before the move-out day. You must mail a certified letter to the tenant advising of the day of inspection that must be 5 days before or after the tenant vacates the premises.
Within 45 days after the tenant leaves, the landlord must send a written, itemized statement of any damages and expenses to be deducted from the deposit. Any violation of the law on security deposits exposes you to damages of up to 3 times the security deposit.
Termination of the Lease – Various Notices
A monthly lease requires a 30-day written notice from either party of their wish to terminate the lease. This applies to fixed term leases as well unless it is a yearly lease for which the notice period is 3-months.
For nonpayment of rent, a landlord must give a 3-7 Day Notice to Quit (check your lease) to allow the tenant to come up with the rent during the period. Full payment during this time is required since acceptance of a partial payment without a written caveat to the tenant that it is not in full satisfaction may be deemed a waiver by the landlord.
For certain breaches of the lease, including creating a substantial nuisance or subletting without consent you are required to give 30-days’ conditional notice or allowing the tenant to remedy the breach. For breaches that involve criminal activity, violence, or that endangers the safety of others or threatens damage to the property, then a 14-day notice is required with no opportunity for the tenant to remedy the breach.
If a tenant leaves early in violation of the lease, the landlord is required to take reasonable measures to find a replacement tenant at the current market rate. Any rent received must be deducted from the rent owed by the original tenant. Any costs incurred by the landlord in having to find another tenant may be included as damages and charged to the tenant who violated the lease.
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a tenant who has joined the armed services or who is a member and has been given relocation or deployment orders lasting at least 90-days may give notice to terminate without incurring additional liability. A copy of the orders must be submitted along with the notice. In these cases, the tenant can terminate the lease 30- days after the day the next rent is due once notice is given.
Victims of Domestic Violence
A victim of domestic violence or sexual assault who has obtained an order of protection from the court may terminate a lease upon 30-days’ written notice accompanied by a copy of the protective order.
Notice of Entry
Although there is no statutory period before a landlord may enter a leased premises, you cannot simply enter at any time without notice. A reasonable time should be given the tenant, such as 24-hours, or make arrangements with the tenant for entry for the purpose of making repairs or to show prospective tenants. For emergencies, the landlord should be permitted to enter at any time though advance notice should be attempted. A tenant may not deny a landlord entry if it is requested so long it is reasonable. If abused by the landlord, the tenant may seek court action.
Withholding Rent by Tenant
If there are serious repairs that need to be made or essential services that are not being provided despite notice to the landlord who fails to make the repairs after a reasonable time, then the tenant has certain remedies. If it is a condition that threatens the tenant’s life, safety or health, the tenant may file an escrow action in court. After a hearing, the court can order the action dismissed, order the rent be returned to the tenant and the lease terminated, that repairs be ordered and an overseer monitor the repairs or that all or part of the rent be paid and the repairs made.
Maryland residential lease agreements are complicated and require that you include certain provisions in your lease. Landlords also have obligations to their tenants and adhere to certain procedures or face civil penalties or court-ordered damages to aggrieved tenants. Consult with a Maryland landlord/tenant attorney if you have further concerns about your lease or obligations.