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Landlords cannot evict tenants without fair warning, PJC brief asserts

January 31, 2018: When landlords believe that tenants have violated their lease and want to evict them before the end of a lease term, Maryland law has rules they must follow. These rules exist to protect tenants, providing a notice period before the landlord can file a breach of lease complaint. But landlords frequently disregard the law, and some courts go along with it.

After two lower courts allowed the landlord of a Public Justice Center client to short-circuit the notice period, PJC housing attorney Zafar Shah filed a petition for writ of certiorari , asking the Court of Appeals of Maryland to take up the issue. The Court granted the request in November 2017, and the following month PJC Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow K’Shaani Smith filed a brief on behalf of the tenant. The brief argued that district and circuit court rulings often undermine tenant protections and provide an incentive for landlords to violate the law. Before filing a breach of lease complaint in District Court, the law requires the landlord to show three things: 1) that the tenant breached the lease, 2) that the landlord gave the tenant 30 or 14 days’ notice to vacate the premises (the time given depends on the nature of the alleged breach), and 3) that the tenant failed to comply with the notice. Despite clear language spelling out these requirements, lower courts have repeatedly determined that landlords do not need to meet the prerequisites before filing a complaint as long as they meet them sometime before trial. The PJC’s brief seeks to correct this interpretation so that tenants are not evicted without an adequate opportunity to prepare and other due process. 

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