Let’s face it, Landlord, your relationship with your tenant may — like all relationships — have its ups and downs. Expect these bumps. Expect that at some point your tenant may make unreasonable demands upon you regarding repairs. Expect that your tenant may not always abide by the terms of your lease agreement. And in this economy, Landlord, expect that your tenant may not always pay his/her rent on time — if your tenant pays rent at all.
So what happens when a tenant stops paying rent? Clearly, the failure to pay rent constitutes a breach of your Lease agreement (and you may have civil causes of action under a breach of contract theory should this happen). Thus, if the terms of your Lease so provide, you may be able to terminate your Lease and collect damages from your tenant.
However, for purposes of this blog Landlord, I’ll assume that you’ve just asked me a question that many clients before you have asked when faced with the fact that their tenants have stopped paying rent: “How do I evict my tenant?” For purposes of this blog, I’m discussing the summary ejectment procedure ONLY — not how to obtain a money judgment against your tenant.
Well, it’s not as complicated as you may think. The eviction procedure for non-payment of rent is called “summary ejectment.” Eviction cases are filed and heard in the District Court of the county where the property is located. For example, if you are a landlord who owns property in Frederick County, then your rent court action will be heard at 100 W. Patrick Street.
To begin the process of getting your tenant out of your property, a landlord (or his agent or attorney) institutes a “Failure to Pay Rent” action by filing a Landlord’s Complaint for Repossession Under Real Property Section 8-401. Keep in mind, Landlord, this type of action only applies when your tenant is still residing in your property. If your tenant already has vacated the leased premises, you cannot utilize this process.
NOTE: Remember my previous blog about county and/or local license requirements? If you need a refresher on this topic, click HERE. The point is this, Landlord: If you are in a jurisdiction that requires a rental license and you DO NOT have the proper license, you are prohibited from instituting a summary ejectment action unless and until you can demonstrate that you have obtained the required license. Get that license, pronto! If you do not have a proper rental license, DO NOT — I repeat DO NOT — attempt to file a Complaint for Repossession because the court WILL NOT hear your case.
Once a Complaint for Repossession is filed with the District Court in your county, a county sheriff will post a summons and a copy of that Complaint on the Property. This gives the tenant notice that he/she may be evicted and, in layman’s terms, is the tenant’s invitation to come to rent court on the issue of the tenant’s failure to pay rent. At the rent court proceeding/trial, the court will hear from the landlord first with regard to the alleged amount of unpaid rent. The court will next hear the tenant’s side of the story. Ultimately, the court’s job is to determine whether the tenant does, in fact, owe the landlord unpaid rent. If the tenant owes the landlord unpaid rent, the court will award possession of the leased property back to the landlord.
Once a landlord has obtained a judgment for repossession of the premises, a tenant has four business days within which to pay the rent due and owing and/or to file an appeal of the rent court proceeding. If the tenant does not pay the amount determined to be due within those four business days after the trial, or if the tenant does not initiate an appeal, a landlord may request the sheriff to evict the tenant. This request is initiated by filing a Petition for Writ of Restitution within 60 days of obtaining the judgment. NOTE: Any judgment for repossession of the premises is enforceable for 60 days after the date of the judgment; after 60 days no warrant for eviction can be issued.
At any time prior to execution of an eviction order, the tenant may redeem the premises by tendering payment, in cash or certified funds, of the amount found to be due by the court. This right to redeem can be revoked if the landlord has obtained three judgments (four in Baltimore City) against the tenant in the previous year.
When the Warrant of Restitution (Eviction) is issued, the tenant is mailed a copy. This is the tenant’s only notice that an eviction has been ordered. The eviction can take place at any time after the warrant is issued, but not on a Sunday or holiday. Usually the eviction date is arranged on an agreeable date between the sheriff and you, Landlord. On the actual eviction date, the landlord is ordinarily obligated to have movers on hand to remove all of the tenant’s possessions to the street. These items must remain for a period of twenty-four (24) hours before they can be disposed. If the tenant does not retrieve any of these items and personal property within that time, the landlord must dispose of them if the tenant does not retrieve them from the street.