No matter the nature of housing you choose, you should enter into a WRITTEN lease with your landlord. This written lease provides you, the tenant, with the most protection under the law. Most rental leases contain standard clauses that cover things like the length of the lease, the amount of the rent, the maintenance of the unit, and the permissibility of pets. READ YOUR LEASE BEFORE YOU SIGN!
What is the deal with a security deposit?
A security deposit is any money that is given to the landlord by the tenant to protect the landlord against unpaid rent or damages to the premises. Usually the money is deposited with the landlord when signing the lease and is invested and returned after the tenant moves out. A few points about security deposits:
- Maximum Amount: According to Maryland Law, the total amount of the security deposit may not be more than two month’s rent. For instance: If the rent is $300/month and the landlord charges $300 security deposit plus two months advance rent, the total of $900 illegally exceeds the two month maximum deposit. If you are charged more than this maximum, you should contact Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. to discuss your options.
- Listing of Existing Damages: Typically, disputed about the return of a security deposit after a lease has ended revolve around conflicting memories-yours and the landlord’s-as to the condition of the apartment when you moved in. The best protection is to create a checklist of the condition of the apartment when you moved in. The list should then be dated by both the tenant and the landlord, and each should keep a copy with your lease.
- Return of the Security Deposit: After the lease is terminated, the landlord has 45 days to return the security deposit and interest, minus any amount properly withheld to cover damages. IF the landlord intends to withhold any part of the security deposit, she or he must send the tenant an itemized list of his or her reasons and the actual cost of each item. If the landlord fails to provide this list within 30 days, she or he loses his or her right to keep any part of the security deposit for damages.
- Receipts: The landlord must provide a receipt for the security deposit (this may be written into the lease).
If my roommate’s name is on the lease too, shouldn’t he or she have to pay half the rent?
No. Most leases require each lessee (both you and your roommates) to be responsible for the full rent. That means if your roommate skips out on you, YOU owe the entire amount of rent. The same is true for the utility and phone bills.
Does my landlord have to fix things that are broken in the unit?
Occasionally. If major structural problems arise or there are major defects in the plumbing, heating or electrical systems, the landlord must fix them immediately. On the other hand, you may be responsible to pay for defects as well. Check your lease for specific wording about your landlord’s responsibilities. Additionally, the landlord must repair other conditions that violate the minimum housing code. Minor, yet annoying defects do not have to be fixed at all. Normally, tenants are not responsible for ordinary wear and tear to a unit. However, if you break something, you will have to pay for it.
Do I have to pay rent during the non-academic months (June-August)?
Yes. Most leases are for one year, however most landlords will allow you to sublease to someone else during those months. Normally it requires the consent of the landlord, but remember although you have subleased the apartment to someone else, YOU remain liable for the rent if the sublease does not pay! You are also primarily liable for the rent if the sublease damages the property.
How can I get out of my lease?
This is a hard question to answer because it depends on the terms of your specific lease. Most leases can not be terminated early. Some leases may be terminated with appropriate written notice, usually 30 days. A lease is a legal contract. If you fail to uphold the terms of the lease, you may be held legally responsible for all the unpaid rent remaining on the lease. READ the lease thoroughly and DO NOT sign it unless you are reasonably sure you can live up to the terms. Finally, if you break a lease, you may also be responsible for attorney’s fees and other legal costs the landlord must expend in trying to enforce the lease.
What do I do if my landlord is being unfair?
There are numerous means to address landlord/realtor-tenant issues. Below are a list of resources that can be utilized:
Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI): Provides advice and assistance on various landlord-tenant laws and legalities in renting.
Maryland Renters’ Guide from MaryPIRG: Excellent web guide to finding and keeping an apartment. Explains Maryland tenant’s law in common English.
Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors: Trade association with jurisdiction over members only.
Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development: Contact for all building hazards and violations of housing codes in the City.