There are a number of issues that arise between a landlord and a tenant. As with most legal problems, the first question is what laws control the situation. When it comes to housing, the controlling authority may be the local government (city or county), the state, or even the federal government.
A lease is a contract. If it is for a period of time longer than one year, it must be in writing. Any terms negotiated and discussed should be included in the lease. As with any legal contract, you should always consider having an attorney review the terms before you sign. At the very least you should never sign a lease that is not completely filled out.
Common landlord issues:
When can I evict my tenant?
All jurisdictions have a process in which a landlord must go through in order to evict a tenant. In Maryland, the landlord must give the tenant one month’s notice and the reason for the eviction. You may evict a tenant in Maryland for: non-payment of rent, holding over (staying beyond the lease term), or breach of lease.
What do I do if my tenant damages the property?
The issue here is the difference between damage and normal wear and tear. If the tenant damages the property, she is responsible for the repairs. If, however, the carpet wears out over a period of 10 years, it is not likely the tenant’s responsibility.
Common tenant issues:
What do I do if the (heat/water/lights, etc.) is not working?
The landlord is required to make sure that the property is inhabitable. That means that it must be kept safe and in generally good condition. If something is not working and it is causing the living conditions to be dangerous, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it.
The heat is not working; can I withhold rent until it is fixed?
The law does not encourage ‘self-help’ in this situation. Most jurisdictions have a policy for handling these types of circumstances. Generally, a tenant can go to the court and deposit the rent in escrow with the clerk or the court. Once the landlord has fixed the problem, the court will release the rent funds to the landlord.
What happens if I move out before the lease is up?
If you move out before the lease expires, then you are still responsible for the rent. However, the landlord has the obligation to mitigate. This means that he must make a good faith effort to re-rent the property. If the property is re-rented, then you are not responsible for any more damages. However, if the landlord was unable to rent the property for the amount you were paying, you may be responsible for the difference.
I came home and my belongings (or what was left of them) were on the street.
If the landlord changes the locks, removes your belongings, or cuts off utilities without a court order, you should contact an attorney immediately.
What happens to my security deposit?
Your security deposit is supposed to cover any damage done to the property while you are living there. It is not meant to pay for normal wear and tear such as new paint or normal cleanup. Most jurisdictions require the security deposit to be held in escrow and returned to you (with interest) after you leave the property and the landlord is satisfied there is no damage.