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Court of Appeals Makes Eviction Harder For Landlords

McDaniel v. Baranowski
No. 64 (Md. App. 2011)

by Colleen K. OíBrien, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In a recent landlord-tenant case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland made it harder for landlords to evict tenants. The Court held that landlords seeking to evict tenants via summary ejectment proceedings must affirmatively plead and demonstrate compliance with local ordinances requiring licenses. In this case, the Court held that the landlord, who failed to obtain a multiple-dwelling license as mandated by Anne Arundel County Code, was not entitled to initiate summary ejectment proceedings under the Maryland Real Property Article against a tenant for failure to pay rent.

Here, the tenant rented an apartment from the landlord, and soon after moving in, noticed many defects with the premises. Specifically, the fuse box sizzled and sparked, causing the unit to lose power every day. The fire department inspected the fuse box and advised the tenant to move out immediately. A health inspector also cited numerous code violations, including the poor condition of the electrical system, as well as the windows and the kitchen countertop. The tenant paid the first and last monthís rent, but otherwise ceased paying rent and vacated the apartment approximately three months after moving in. The landlord pursued summary ejectment proceedings, and the trial court permitted it, but the Court of Appeals concluded that because the landlord did not have a license to operate a multi-unit dwelling as required by Anne Arundel County Code, that he could not take advantage of the summary ejection proceedings.

The Court of Appeals analogized this case to other contexts where the failure to obtain a license as required by a local ordinance renders a contract invalid and unenforceable, such as in mechanicís lien cases. A person who has neglected to obtain a license will not be given the assistance of the courts to enforce the contract because a statutory requirement to obtain a license is intended to protect the public.

The Court also examined the tenantís Consumer Protection Act (CPA) claim. To the Court, where the tenant failed to present any evidence of actual damages, such as bills for medical treatment, loss of wages, or cost of securing suitable substitute housing, she failed to sustain actual damages as required by the CPA for the allegedly substandard premises. Therefore, the trial court properly dismissed her CPA claim.