RENTERS’ RIGHTS

Maryland State

One who rents a house to another is obligated to construct doors and to fix broken windows, to reinforce the ceiling and to fix broken beams, and to provide a bolt and a lock and similar things which are produced by skilled craftspeople and which are essential to living in a house.  

– Maimonides, Laws of Rental 6:3

The Torah obligates us to preserve our own life and health, and that of others. The Gemara in Bava Kamma teaches that, in response to a plague, we have an obligation to stay in our homes as much as possible. We are also taught that all people should have dei machsoro, resources sufficient for each person’s needs. (Deut. 15:7-8) Consequently, society has an obligation to make sure that people can stay in their homes, especially during a time of pandemic.

Safe and stable housing has far reaching economic, health, and social benefits to individuals, families, and communities, and is key to reducing racial inequities. Renters routinely have little agency when faced with threats to maintaining stable housing. Now many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction mitigation policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who’s Impacted:

  • Renters who are living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. Those who find themselves in Rent Court are overwhelmingly Black women, households with minor children, and who receive no housing subsidy.

Key Committees:

  • Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
  • House Judiciary (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
  • House Environment and Transportation (ENT), Chair: Kumar Barve (Montgomery County)

Legislative Details:

JUFJ and our coalition partners are calling for legislators to pass legislation during the 2021 legislative session to address emergency needs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as longstanding needs that result from structural problems in the Rent Court system. Our priority legislation includes:

Emergency Eviction Prevention (HB1312/SB910):

  • Sponsored by Delegate Wilkins and Senator Smith
  • Prohibit landlords from terminating or not renewing leases unless they have a legitimate reason to do so. During a pandemic, failure to pay rent is not a legitimate reason.
  • Require renters are offered payment plans before being taken to court for failure to pay rent.
  • Establish a minimum arrears amount for filing a failure to pay rent suit (more than $600).
  • Expand and extend CDC order and Gov. Hogan’s exec. order to cover all eviction filings, other than imminent threat, until April of 2022.
  • Ban late fees/interest charges or raising rent rates throughout the pandemic.
  • Provide financial relief for landlords by creating a program to mandate matching state/county budget funds for landlords to provide rent forgiveness.

Right to Counsel (HB018/SB154):

  • Sponsored by Delegate Fisher and Senator Hettleman
  • Provide low-income tenants with the right to legal counsel/representation in Rent Court. Currently, 1% of tenants in Rent Court are represented, while 98% of landlords are. Establishing a right to counsel would not only help renters by reducing evictions; it would save the state $18.1M, in addition to similar savings in local jurisdictions.

Rent Court Reform (HB052/SB454):

  • Sponsored by Delegate Wells and Senator Sydnor
  • Increase potential for alternative resolutions by establishing a formal pre-trial structure for service providers to engage renters and landlords and for judges to order alternative dispute resolution if deemed appropriate.
  • When no alternative resolution can be reached, increase the fairness of trials by providing renters time to seek counsel and to adequately prepare for trial.
  • Give judges broader power to delay eviction in emergency situations – allowing time for renters to relocate should that be deemed necessary.
  • JUFJ will also be supporting tenant screening reform which should establish regulations to prevent landlords’ use of irrelevant, incomplete, or inaccurate information about tenants to bar them from access to housing.

Eviction Proceedings in Health Emergencies (HB1346):

  • Provide protections for tenants to avoid displacement, but does not close loophole in tenant holding over cases (JUFJ position: favorable with amendments). This bill is sponsored by Delegate Clippinger.

Key Partners: Renters United Maryland, CASA, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Montgomery County Renters Alliance, Public Justice Center

Additional Legislative Positions:

In addition to JUFJ’s key legislative priorities, we have taken positions on other legislation related to Renter’s Rights:

  • We SUPPORT Increase in Fees for Filing an Eviction (HB729/SB530)
  • We SUPPORT the Foreclosure Relief Act (HB1009/SB724)
  • We SUPPORT the Tenant Protection Act of 2021 (HB050)
  • We SUPPORT Lead Risk Reduction Compliance (HB049)
  • We SUPPORT Sealing Court Records for Evictions Proceedings (HB112)
  • We SUPPORT Shielding Court Records for Evictions Proceedings (HB697)
  • We SUPPORT Sealing Court Records for FTP Proceedings (HB1008)

We are also taking a position on a number of Fair Funding bills, because budgets are a moral document and we must invest in programs that will address longstanding inequities and the current COVID-19 crisis.

  • We SUPPORT restoring the millionaire estate tax (HB165)
  • We SUPPORT combined reporting for corporations (HB172)
  • We SUPPORT offsetting special treatment for capital gains (HB201)
  • We SUPPORT taxing investment manager income equally through carried interest (HB215/SB288)
  • We SUPPORT enacting the throwback rule (HB229)
  • We SUPPORT eliminating the state level Opportunity Zone tax credits (HB262/SB113)
  • We SUPPORT income tax reform (HB275)
  • We SUPPORT closing the LLC loophole (HB357)

Maryland State

One who rents a house to another is obligated to construct doors and to fix broken windows, to reinforce the ceiling and to fix broken beams, and to provide a bolt and a lock and similar things which are produced by skilled craftspeople and which are essential to living in a house.  

– Maimonides, Laws of Rental 6:3

The Torah obligates us to preserve our own life and health, and that of others. The Gemara in Bava Kamma teaches that, in response to a plague, we have an obligation to stay in our homes as much as possible. We are also taught that all people should have dei machsoro, resources sufficient for each person’s needs. (Deut. 15:7-8) Consequently, society has an obligation to make sure that people can stay in their homes, especially during a time of pandemic.

Safe and stable housing has far reaching economic, health, and social benefits to individuals, families, and communities, and is key to reducing racial inequities. Renters routinely have little agency when faced with threats to maintaining stable housing. Now many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction mitigation policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The People: Renters who are living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. Those who find themselves in rent court are overwhelmingly women, African Americans, households with minor children, and who receive no housing subsidy.

The Legislation:

  • Emergency Response:
    • Eviction prevention – Expand current policy to cover all eviction filings until January 31, 2022 to allow for economic recovery and additional legislative action as needed.
    • Robust rental assistance – Allocate at least $244M to provide rental assistance for citizens and non-citizens to prevent evictions. Funds should go directly to landlords, who would have to certify that the money is used to satisfy the debt of their tenants.
    • Just Cause Eviction – Prohibit landlords from terminating the lease of a tenant unless they have a legitimate reason to do so. During a pandemic, failure to pay rent is not a legitimate reason. Landlords should not be permitted to terminate leases or choose not to renew them unless they truly have a good reason.
    • Tenant Screening Reform – Establish tenant screening regulations to prevent the use of irrelevant, incomplete or inaccurate information that creates barriers to adequate housing. Tenants should have a rapid method to challenge questionable information. Expungement of eviction records should be permitted and evictions that do not involve monetary issues should be excluded from credit reports.
  • Structural Change:
    • Safe and habitable housing – Reform the rent escrow process and enforcement mechanisms for tenants whose landlords fail to remedy unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Legislation should define uniform standards for mold assessment and remediation, and allow a renter to terminate a lease early if defects are not addressed.
    • Due process – Change the process for eviction filings to be more fair and equitable for renters. Specifically, tenants should have at least 21 days notice rather than 5 days from the filling of an eviction complaint to a court date.
    • Right to Counsel – Provide tenants with the right to legal counsel/representation in rent court. This would provide greater equity in court, where currently less than 5% of tenants have legal counsel, while landlords are represented in over 95% of cases. Moreover, a recent study in Baltimore City concluded that establishing a right to counsel would reduce evictions and thereby save the State $18.1M due to decreased Medicaid and foster care costs.
    • Collection of eviction data – Establish a system to accurately track eviction data across Maryland that would better define the scope of the problem and guide the development of policy to reduce the incidence of eviction and stabilize housing.

Key Partners: CASA, Renters’ United Maryland.

Related Events

  • Maryland General Assembly Senate Watch Party: COVID-19 Eviction and Housing Relief Act

    March 10 | 1:00 pm8:00 pm

    Join JUFJ to watch the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee as they hear testimony on the COVID-19 Eviction and Housing Relief Act (SB910). The hearing starts at 1:30 PM, but we don’t know the exact time bills will be heard. Sign up to get an email notification when the bill is next on the committe…

  • Maryland Statewide Team Meeting

    March 10 | 7:30 pm9:30 pm

    Join JUFJers from across Maryland for a call at 8:00 PM to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. If you’re new to JUFJ or want to schmooze and catch up with fellow members, join at 7:30 PM.

  • Baltimore Action Team Meeting

    March 17 | 7:00 pm8:00 pm

    Join JUFJers from across Baltimore to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. We will share updates for all the local campaigns, as well as the Maryland statewide campaigns that need local attention, and brainstorm on how to move the work forward.

  • Baltimore Action Team Meeting

    March 31 | 7:00 pm8:00 pm

    Join JUFJers from across Baltimore to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. We will share updates for all the local campaigns, as well as the Maryland statewide campaigns that need local attention, and brainstorm on how to move the work forward.

Campaign Organizers