Landlords cannot change locks on a tenant without a court order; if they do it would be considered an illegal eviction and could go to jail. He or she must take the tenant to rent court.
The court process is relatively speedy and straightforward compared to other civil action. Rent court is designed to manage a continuous flow of cases, many recur month to month.
The landlord can file for late rent the day after the rent is due regardless of reason. In Maryland, there is a five day grace period requirement for rent to be paid without a late charge. However, a landlord can still file paperwork the day after rent is due. If paid before the court date, they have to dismiss the case.
The court issues a summon to the tenant for trial in a “summary ejectment proceeding,” within one to three weeks (depending on the jurisdiction) after the complaint was filed. If rent remains unpaid and the tenant either does not have the money or fails to show, then the judge will decide in favor of the landlord. The tenant then has four days to pay, appeal, or leave the premises. The landlord needs to be prepared to argue their case, because the tenant may make claims and use Rent Escrow as a defense. At the hearing, the burden of proof is on the landlord. The landlord must prove there is an agreement to pay the rent and the landlord has complied with provisions in the lease to make repairs timely.
If the tenant doesn’t pay, the landlord can seek a “warrant of restitution.” This is the eviction that is scheduled through the constable or sheriff to recover possession of the premises. The constable or sheriff must be present to preform a legal eviction.
There are many logistics that must be properly managed to perform a legal eviction.
As of October 1, 2004, landlords with properties built before 1950 (before 1978 on or after January 1, 2015) that contains at least one residential rental dwelling unit, unless otherwise exempted by law must register with Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for lead paint certification. This does not include property that has been tested and certified as lead-free. If the property is not registered with a valid inspection certificate particular to that lease, the landlord cannot file for failure to pay rent. For more detail, refer to Requirements to Certify Compliance With Inspection & Certification Requirements.
Some county jurisdictions and incorporated cities require rental property registration and/or a rental license. Check here for a list of Maryland counties that require registration or a rental license, but verify with your local government where your property is located because the list may change. As of May 9, 2011, if registration or licensure is required in your county the property must be registered correctly to be successful in Rent Court. A property owner who fails to obtain a rental license is not permitted to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent.
Federal law requires a landlord to provide information as to whether any Tenant is in the military or provide specific facts for the Court to conclude that each Tenant is not in the military. This information may be available from various sources including the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center.
If rent is unpaid and the tenant is deceased, intestate (not having made a legal will), and without next of kin, the landlord may file a Failure to Pay Rent action to lawfully dispose of the deceased tenant’s belongings.
A money judgement needs to be obtained, which is a separate court procedure. Federal law restricts garnishment of earnings to not exceed 25 percent of the debtor’s disposable income. (The amount of earnings left after legal deductions e.g., federal, state taxes, Social Security, unemployment insurance and medical insurance.)