Are utilities considered rent? The law remains unclear.

 

Legal Aid: Despite errors in complaints, landlords win rent cases

A recent article in the Associated Press (courtesy of the Baltimore Sun)discusses how  Maryland judges differ on what should be considered “rent”for purposes of evictions after a early 2016 landlord tenant case shook things up. A recent case Lockett v. Blue Ocean Bristol has perhaps helped sway the pendulum towards further protections for Maryland’s numerous renters. Although, depending on who you speak some will claim it is business as usual.

Landlords have long been able to file for evictions under failure-to-pay actions for both past due rent as well as past due bills such as utilities and water bills. However,  in 2016 the MD Court of Appeals(MD highest court) ruled that rent ” denotes the periodic charge for use or occupancy of the premises, but NOT the various payments tenants may owe to the landlord from time to time, even if the lease characterizes them as “deemed rent” or “additional rent”. The Court determined therefore, that landlords CANNOT count the utility charges as rent.

Unfortunately, the law is not settled regarding utilities as rent. There are differing interpretations from different judges on what this means and whether it is applicable to evictions as well. Landlords argue it only applies to retaliatory evictions and NOT standard failure to pay ejectments.

According to the article, Chief Judge Mark Scurti,  of the Baltimore District Court’s civil division acknowledged that judges are interpreting the Lockett case “in different ways”

Advocates, landlords and judges are expected to address this issue in the 2017 General Assembly, hopefully providing clarification on which way the courts plan to interpret this matter. Of course, unsurprisingly landlords want (and are pushing)for a definition of rent that includes not only the monthly rent but everything else, payable, or the tenant faces eviction.

See the full news article here –   http://wtop.com/maryland/2016/10/maryland-judges-differ-on-what-is-rent/

MD Court of Appeals decision Lockett v. Blue Ocean Bristol, LLC- http://caselaw.findlaw.com/md-court-of-appeals/1726782.html

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