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 called for legislators to pass legislation during the 2021 legislative session that would 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 included:

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.
  • This bill was passed out of the House and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but did not get a final vote in the Senate before the end of the 2021 session.

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.
  • This bill passed, making Maryland the first state in the nation to ensure that tenants will have access to counsel in housing court. Unfortunately, a bill that would have funded this program didn’t pass before the end of the 2021 session.

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.
  • A very watered down version of the bill passed the House, but was not brought up for a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The pre-filing notice provision in the bill was extended from 7 to 10 days and also weakened (only one form of notice instead of two) and amended into HB 18. So, something to celebrate here!
  • JUFJ also supported tenant screening reform which would establish regulations to prevent landlords’ use of irrelevant, incomplete, or inaccurate information about tenants to bar them from access to housing.

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 took positions on other legislation related to Renter’s Rights:

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

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

  • Baltimore Action Team Meeting

    June 23 | 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 and brainstorm on how to move the work forward, especially on budget advocacy.

  • Baltimore Civics Kibitz 2: The Budget Process

    July 15 | 7:00 pm8:30 pm

    Join JUFJ in part 2 of our Civics Kibitz Series. Our guest speaker will be a representative from the Baltimore Bureau of the Budget and Management Research – Department of Finance.

Campaign Organizers