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.

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 Statewide Team Meeting

    December 20 | 3:30 pm5:30 pm

    Join JUFJers from across Maryland for a call at 4:00 PM to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. If you’re new to JUFJ work or want to schmooze and catch up with fellow members, join at 3:30 PM.

  • Annapolis and Testimony 101 Training Maryland General Assembly 2021

    January 7, 2021 | 5:30 pm9:00 pm

    Join JUFJ virtually for Annapolis 101 to learn the basics of how the Maryland General Assembly functions in Annapolis and for Testimony 101 to learn how to give testimony during state session! While we’d love to see you for both, feel free to choose and attend one training session.

  • Annapolis and Testimony 101 Training Maryland General Assembly 2021

    January 10, 2021 | 3:00 pm6:30 pm

    Join JUFJ virtually for Annapolis 101 to learn the basics of how the Maryland General Assembly functions in Annapolis and for Testimony 101 to learn how to give testimony during state session! While we’d love to see you for both, feel free to choose and attend one training session.

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