Retaliatory Actions- What is it and how do you prove it?
In Maryland, as in many states, a tenant has a number of rights. One such right includes protections against retaliatory actions including eviction, arbitrary increases in rent or decrease in services that they are otherwise entitled to. Landlords are prohibited from engaging in such actions under the following reasons:
- because a tenant or agent has filed a complaint with the landlord or any public agency.
- because the tenant (or their agent) has filed a lawsuit or testified against the landlord or
- because the tenant is a member or organize of any tenant’s organization.
This includes either written or actual notice to the landlord. The complaint causing leading to retaliation can can encompass a number of things including alleged violations of the lease by the landlord, violation of law, or conditions of the leased premise that is a substantial threat to the health and/or safety of the occupants.
Engaging in such actions constitutes a retaliatory action in Maryland. Prior to 2011 such actions were called “retaliatory evictions”. Tenants also had a slightly more difficult battle proving such actions due to Maryland law required tenants to prove that such action was “solely” based on the above actions by the tenant.
However, to be clear this does not mean that simply because a tenant complains they are protected from being evicted.As long as a landlords termination of a tenancy is not found to not to be as a result of retaliatory action, the landlord can still proceed with eviction.
Therefore if a tenant complains but is past due on their rent, winning claims of a retaliatory action would be harder to argue. The tenant at that point is in breach of their lease by failing to pay the agreed upon amount therefore not based “solely” on filing a complaint, lawsuit or being a member of an organization. This defense could be argued by the landlord successfully, depending on the facts of the case.
Additionally, in order for a tenant may raise a retaliatory action of a landlord either;
- in defense to an action for possession; or
- as an affirmative claim for damages resulting from a landlords action ocurring during tenancy
Contingent on Current Rent
Perhaps, the one of the most common situations are tenants who are not current on rent, looking to file retaliatory actions. The law is clear however that in order to claim retaliation the tenant MUST be current on rent due and owing to the landlord AT THE TIME OF THE RETALIATORY ACTION, unless the tenant has withheld rent in accordance with the lease, under §8-211 (rent escrow filing due to repairs of serious and dangerous premise defects) or another comparable local ordinance.
In addition, to the above restrictions, if more than 6 months has passed since a determination by the courts on the initial case by a court(or administrative agency), actions for eviction shall not be deemed retaliatory evictions. Claims of retaliatory evictions also do not alter any rights to terminate or not renew a written lease (greater than 1 month)at the expiration of the term. This means if even if you have filed a retaliatory action, the landlord is under no obligation to renew your lease if it is otherwise set to expire nor is prohibited from terminating your lease if the lease has been breached. It is also important to check the county you live in, as some counties have slightly different ordinances governing retaliatory evictions, which supersede Md Law.
If a landlord is found to have engaged in a retaliatory action the court MAY enter judgement for up to 3 x the monthly rent, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs.
For more information, you can review MD Code on Retaliatory Actions at
MD Code § 8-208.1. Retaliatory actions.