As a landlord, or a property manager, you probably deal with many calls, complaints, or grievances each month. Regardless of what the case might be, Maryland’s landlord-tenant law stipulates, that landlords, or property management companies in Baltimore MD acting on their behalf, must treat such complaints with care and respect. To prevent your response to those complaints being deemed “retaliatory”, it helps to have a deeper understanding of the law.
Understand the Retaliatory Provisions of the Law
When it comes to dealing with tenants and prospective renters, companies, involved in property management in Baltimore, have certain rights granted to them – including that of performing background checks, expecting timely rental payments, and evicting non-compliant (to lease agreement) tenants. However, if a tenant does lodge a grievance or a complaint for any reason, such tenants enjoy certain rights too.
In the sections below, we’ll explore various aspects of retaliatory action, and discuss what potential remedies are available to landlords and tenants.
When Might Retaliation Ensue?
Some specific situations faced by landlords or property management companies in Baltimore MD, that might give rise to retaliation include:
- A tenant providing notice in writing, about health and safety violations on the property – such as lead paint – to the landlord/manager or a relevant government agency
- A similar written notice, originating from a tenant to a governing body, alleging lease violations by the manager/landlord
- Tenant activity to form a tenants’ association or union
- The filing of a lawsuit by a tenant against the property manager or owner
- Tenants testifying against the owner/manager in a lawsuit, either related or not to the property
Section §§ 8-208.1, 8-208.2 of the State Code enshrines these rights and obligations. To avoid any accusation of retaliation – either real or perceived – Individuals and companies involved in property management in Baltimore must ensure they know and understand what these provisions stipulate.
What is “Retaliation”?
One “passive” form of retaliation might come in the form of a property manager ignoring or not interacting with a tenant in common areas such as elevators or hallways. Other retaliation might come in the form of a landlord or his/her agent withdrawing certain “extra” privileges that only the errant tenant previously enjoyed.
Here are some likely retaliatory scenarios that the law forbids:
- Threaten, or take action that threatens, occupancy of a unit against a tenant
- Arbitrary rent increases
- Decreasing or withholding entitled services to a complainant
- Termination of a periodic tenancy
- Evict a tenant (also known as retaliatory eviction) solely on any of the above grounds
Landlords may also not harass or threaten (verbally, physically, or though other threatening actions) a tenant; nor is the landlord/property manager allowed to change locks on a complaining tenants unit.
Remedies and Awards
Clearly, most professionals engaged in property management in Baltimore typically will not engage in retaliatory action. However, if the law determine that landlords have indulged in retaliatory measures, the court may award any/all of the following to the tenant:
- Damages not exceeding three months’ rent
- Appropriate court costs
- Reasonable attorney fees
Tenants face similar penalties if they act in bad faith to file a gradience. To protect yourself from potential accusations of retaliatory action, follow these best practices:
- Where possible, all communications with tenants, who may have filed grievances or complaints against the landlord or property manager – must occur in writing
- When mailing documents or responses to a tenant, related to an ongoing dispute or grievance, always use registered post, with a mandatory acceptance signature option
- If verbal communication or discussions must occur, either conduct such sessions in the presence of witnesses or, with the tenants (or his/her agents) concurrence, record the sessions for future reference
A final note of caution, about either real or perceived retaliatory actions, is that it behooves property managers to address any written grievance quickly, and with all available evidence.
Beware of Caveats
When responding to lawsuits alleging retaliation, property owners (and managers) should be aware of certain exceptions to the laws.
There are several critical caveats that apply to when tenants may legally claim retaliation:
- The retaliation must occur within 6-months of a tenant’s actions that prompted the retaliation
- Tenants must be legally current on their rental obligations
- The grievance is null and voice if a period of more than 6-months has passed between the court’s initial ruling and a subsequent claim of retaliation
- If a tenant files a grievance at a time when his/her lease term is set to expire anyway
These are generic guidelines about how Baltimore property Managers should deal with complaints about retaliatory behavior. However, beware of what retaliatory actions you undertake. Sometimes, what might seem like a “harmless” reaction to a property management situation may, in fact, be deemed retaliatory under the law!