Maryland Courts

Housing

What Courts?

The District Court handles most housing issues, including landlord-tenant cases. However, Circuit Courts handle some issues such as foreclosure.

District Court
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This topic includes information about Landlord/Tenant issues and Foreclosure.

Landlord/Tenant

What is housing court like?

Housing matters between landlords and tenants are usually heard by the District Court. In some counties, the pace at which housing cases are heard can be quick. Your case will be scheduled for a certain time, for example 9 a.m., but you will need to wait in the courtroom until your case is called.

The judge will usually ask the plaintiff (the party who brought the suit) to speak first. The plaintiff will explain his or her side of the case, and present any relevant evidence. The judge will then ask the defendant for his or her response. At this time, the defendant can explain his or her point of view and also present any evidence.

The court may enter judgment in favor of one of the parties, or it may schedule another hearing if more information is needed.

If both parties don’t appear in court, the court may dismiss the case, issue a judgment, or postpone the trial. To request a postponement, send a letter to the clerk’s office of the court hearing your case before the trial date. You must mail a copy of the request to the opposing party.

Issues for Tenants

I have been served with papers by my landlord. What do I do next?

  • What kind of case is it?
    When a landlord believes the tenant has not paid rent or has violated the lease, the landlord can take a number of legal actions.
    1. Failure to Pay Rent. A landlord files this when he or she believes you owe back rent. The landlord can use this to seek EVICTION and MONETARY DAMAGES.
      a. To defend the case, attend the HEARING.
    2. Complaint and Summons Against a Tenant Holding Over. A landlord files this when he or she alleges the tenant refuses to leave the property. The landlord can use this to seek EVICTION and MONETARY DAMAGES.
      a. To defend the case, attend the HEARING.
    3. Complaint and Summons Against Tenant in Breach of Lease. A landlord files this when he or she believes the tenant is violating the lease. The landlord can use this to seek EVICTION. a. To defend the case, attend the HEARING.
    4. Complaint for Wrongful Detainer. A landlord or person responsible for paying the rent uses this to seek EVICTION when someone staying in the house refuses to leave. This can be someone who is not on the lease.
      a. To defend the case, attend the HEARING.
    5. Petition for Warrant of Restitution. Before an eviction can take place, the landlord must get a JUDGMENT in one of the cases described above (No. 1-4), and then wait four days. After 4 days, but no later than 60 days, the landlord can then file this “petition for warrant of restitution,” which, if granted, allows the landlord to evict the person in the home.
      a. When this is filed, the landlord must send you a copy of the petition in the mail, but there is no hearing.
  • Was I properly served?
    • You can be “served” by POSTING or IN PERSON.
    • The sheriff or constable can serve you by POSTING the form in a conspicuous place, usually on the door of the rented property. 
    • The sheriff will also send a notice by first class mail.The sheriff or other person can also serve you IN PERSON by delivering the summons/complaint to you.
  • What happens if I don’t come to court?
    If you do not attend the hearing, the court can POSTPONE the trial, enter a JUDGMENT against you, or DISMISS the case. If the judge enters a judgment against you, you can then be evicted, under certain circumstances.
  • How to prepare?
    Bring all court documents and evidence to support your claim. You may want to bring the lease, accounting records, cancelled checks, photographs and other documents or items that can demonstrate what you are trying to prove.
  • What happens in court?
    The judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant present their version of the dispute. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the court may issue an Order of Possession. In certain limited circumstances, the court may enter a monetary judgment in the amount of the rent due and the costs of the suit.
  • What happens if I am evicted?
    If the court issues an ORDER OF POSSESSION or grants the WARRANT OF RESTITUTION, you may be evicted. You can avoid eviction in most cases if you pay the amount the court decided was due, plus court costs, before the eviction takes place. Payment to the landlord must be in cash, certified check or money order. EXCEPTION: If you have had three (3) judgments of possession against you (or four(4) in Baltimore City) during the past 12 months before the current suit, a landlord may ask the court to deny your right to redeem the property. If the judge grants the landlord’s request, you may be evicted even if you pay the rent due. The landlord cannot evict you on a Sunday or holiday. The sheriff must be present during the eviction. The landlord does not have to notify you when the eviction will take place. Once your property is removed from the premises, you are responsible for its safety.

I am living in a property with housing violations, what can I do?

  • What action?
    When a tenant lives in a property with certain defects or conditions (usually housing code violations), the tenant can file an injunction or rent escrow action in District Court.
  • What do I need to do first?
    Notify the landlord about the property’s defects or conditions, and request that the landlord make necessary repairs or correct the conditions.
  • What is rent escrow?
    Rent escrow is when the tenant pays rent payments to a third party, who holds the rent payments in an escrow account. The landlord will not have access to the rent payments without following the court’s order (usually regarding making repairs).
  • How to file?
    File a Petition in Action of Rent Escrow or For Injunction (DC-CV-083) with the District Court, along with any relevant documents you will present as evidence. The landlord will need to be served with the papers. The landlord may file an Answer to defend his or her actions.
  • What happens in court?
    • The judge will hear from both sides, and may enter judgment in favor of one of the parties. If the court finds in favor of the tenant and orders that a rent escrow account be set up, the judge can take several actions.
    • The court can order that money be returned to you from the account as compensation, that either you or the landlord receive money from the account to pay for repairs, or the judge can order other actions. You must continue to pay rent into the escrow account.
    • Baltimore City has special laws about rent escrow.
How can I get my security deposit back?
  • What action?
    For your landlord to keep any part of your security deposit, within 45 days after the tenancy ends, the landlord must mail to you a written list of the damages claimed with a statement of the costs the landlord actually incurred. If a landlord wrongfully keeps any part of your security deposit, you can file a civil claim with the District Court.
  • How to file?
    File the Complaint form (DC-CV-001). Include any documents you intend to present as evidence at trial.
  • How to give notice?
    The clerk’s office can have the landlord served by certified mail or you can pay a fee to have the Sheriff serve the defendant. The landlord can also be served by private process, meaning you arrange for service by another person or company.
  • What happens in court?
    The landlord may file an answer to your complaint to defend his or her actions. In court, the judge will hear from both sides, consider any evidence, and enter a judgment in favor of one of the parties.
Issues for Landlords

My tenant stopped paying rent, what can I do?

  • What action?
    When a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may seek eviction and money damages.
  • How to file?
    Once rent is past due, the landlord may file a Failure to Pay Rent form (DC-CV-082). File the form in the District Court in the county where the rental property is located.
  • How to give notice?
    After the case is filed, the tenant will need to be served. The District Court can mail copies of the papers to the tenant, or you can request that the Sheriff serve the tenant in person (for a fee). You can also arrange for private process service, where a company or individual will serve the tenant for you.
  • What happens in court?
    • On the trial date, both parties must appear in court. If both parties don’t appear, the court may dismiss the case, issue a judgment, or postpone the trial.
    • If the court finds in favor of the landlord, the court may enter judgment for possession. In Baltimore City, special notice requirements apply.
  • What happens after judgment?
    After the court enters judgment for possession, the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property.

    See the next section about Evictions.

How do I evict a tenant?
  • What action?
    When a tenant fails to pay rent, breaches the lease, or holds over (refuses to leave), the landlord may seek eviction.
  • What do I need to do first?
    Obtain a judgment for possession against the tenant from the District Court. See "How to File" above. The eviction process cannot start until 4 business days have passed from the time the court entered judgment for possession in favor of the landlord.
  • How to file?
    After this time, the landlord may file a Petition for Warrant of Restitution (DC-CV-081). The court will decide whether to enter an Order for Warrant of Restitution.
  • How to give notice?
    The landlord is not responsible for notifying the tenant of the time of eviction. However, it is makes sense to do so because it gives the tenant the chance to remove personal property before the eviction.
  • How to evict the tenant?
    The Sheriff must be present during the eviction. The eviction must take place within 60 days after the court entered judgment for possession. The eviction cannot take place on a Sunday or holiday. Once property is removed from the premises, the tenant is responsible for its safety. In Baltimore City, special property removal restrictions apply.

Foreclosure

What is the foreclosure process like?

If you are behind on your mortgage and you cannot reach an agreement with your lender, your lender may try to foreclose on your home. You have the right to request foreclosure mediation with your lender.

90 days after you have defaulted on the terms of your loan – Your lender may file a foreclosure action with the court.

45 days before filing the foreclosure action – The lender must send you their Notice of Intent to Foreclose. The Notice will explain why the foreclosure is happening, and the itemized amount you can pay to stop foreclosure.

After filing the foreclosure action – The lender will file the foreclosure action in the Circuit Court for the county in which your property is located. The lender must serve you with the papers it filed with the court.

What can I do to prevent the foreclosure?  You can stop the foreclosure by paying ALL of the missed mortgage payments, fees, and other charges due to the lender. You can also defend against the foreclosure if you can prove to the court that you did not default on your loan, or that the lender did not follow the foreclosure procedures required by law. To do so, you can file an Answer with the court, and send your Answer to your lender. The court will hold a hearing and decide whether the lender may foreclose on your home.

You may be able to work out a solution by requesting mediation.  If your home is your principal residence and you are facing foreclosure, you may request mediation when your lender starts the foreclosure action with the Circuit Court. The lenders will file one of two documents with the Circuit Court.  They will file a “Preliminary Affidavit” if they have not completed an analysis of your ability to repay the loan, or a “Final Affidavit” if they have completed the analysis. As part of the Final Affidavit, your lender must send you a “Request for Foreclosure Mediation” form. You have 25 days from the time you receive this form to complete it and file the request for mediation with the Circuit Court. You must pay a non-refundable $50 fee when you request mediation. This is the only time you will be offered the opportunity to request foreclosure mediation. Commercial and other non-owner occupied properties are not eligible for foreclosure mediation.

What If I Cannot Afford the $50 Mediation Filing Fee?  A judge may waive or reduce the fee if you cannot afford to pay it. To request a waiver of the fee, complete the Request for Waiver of Filing Fee For Foreclosure Mediation form and send it, along with your Request for Mediation form, to the Clerk of the Circuit Court. You will receive a copy of the judge's decision on your request for waiver of the fee. As noted at the bottom of the form, if the Court does not grant your request for a fee waiver or fee reduction in its entirety, the Court is to specify in its order the dollar amount that you must pay and the amount of time, not to exceed ten (10) days, within which you must make payment to the Court. If you do not make payment within the time allowed, your request for foreclosure mediation will be stricken.

45 days after you were served – If you do not pay the amount due to the lender or defend against the foreclosure, the lender may sell your home at public auction.

Before the sale at auction - The lender must have published notice of the sale in a local newspaper for at least 3 weeks in a row.

At least 10 days before the sale at auction – The lender must send you notice of the date of sale. Your failure to receive or sign this notice will not stop the foreclosure.

Up through 1 business day before the sale – You can pay the full amount due to the lender to stop the foreclosure from happening.

After the sale – The person who purchased the home at auction will receive the title to the property. The court will enter judgment giving possession to the purchaser. At this point, you no longer own or have a right to live in the home. The court may order the Sheriff to evict you.

There are steps you can take to try to prevent or avoid foreclosure. Learn more from Maryland’s HOPE Initiative. Watch out for scams by individuals who approach you about your foreclosure; the HOPE Initiative can tell you more about such scams.

I’m renting a house that is being foreclosed on. What’s going to happen?

45 days before the foreclosed home is sold at public auction, the person authorized to make the sale must mail a notice to all occupants entitled “Important Notice” containing information about the foreclosure.

Between 10 and 30 days before the foreclosed home is sold at public auction, the person authorized to make the sale must mail another notice to all occupants entitled “Notice of Impending Foreclosure Sale.” This second notice will explain the details of the sale at public auction.

A foreclosure sale will not end your lease automatically. The new owner must serve on each tenant a notice stating that you should send rent payments to the purchaser or the purchaser’s agent. The notice must also contain the name, address, and phone number of the purchaser or the purchaser’s agent who is responsible for managing and maintaining the property.

90 days before terminating the lease – If the new owner plans to live in the property (as an “owner-occupier”), the owner must give all tenants written notice that the owner intends to terminate the lease.

If the new owner is not an “owner-occupier,” the new owner must allow you to continue renting the property until the end of your lease.