In all residential leases in Baltimore City, whether oral or written, it is implied that the landlord covenants and warrants that the dwelling is fit for human habitation. Dwelling means a structure or that part of a structure which is used for or is intended for use as a home or residence by one person or by two or more persons maintaining a common household. Fit for human habitation means that the dwelling does not contain conditions which endanger the life, health and safety of the tenants, including, but not limited to vermin or rodent infestation, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity. In the first thirty (30) days of occupancy,
- if the dwelling is unfit for human habitation, and
- if the landlord has notice of the conditions on the property which constitute the breach of the warranty of habitability,
a tenant may exercise any remedies available by law. In addition, the tenant is entitled to the following remedies if they are exercised within thirty (30) days of occupancy:
- An action or proceeding for breach of contract or warranty. In the action, the tenant may ask the court to rescind the contract, i.e., declare the contract void, and may ask for other remedies.
- Rescission of the contract including the return of all deposits and money towards rent during the period of breach.
The landlord must receive notice of the conditions that constitute the breach of the warranty of habitability by one of the following means:
- from the Department of Housing and Community Development or any other municipal or governmental agency or
- a letter from the tenant or his agent to the landlord by certified mail or
- actual notice of the conditions.
If, in bad faith, the tenant or his family member, invitee or agent has refused entry to the landlord or the landlord’s agent so the landlord has not been able to make repairs, the tenant shall be responsible for the landlord’s counsel fees and court costs. Likewise, if the tenant or his family member, invitee or agent has caused the conditions which are alleged to exist, the tenant will be responsible for the cost of repairs.
The provisions of this section cannot be waived.
After the first thirty- (30) days of occupancy, the implied warranty of fitness for human habitation continues. However, the definition of fit for human habitation is somewhat different. Now, fit for human habitation means “the premises shall not have any conditions which endanger the life, health and safety of the tenants involving vermin or rodent infestation in two or more units, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity, except where the tenant is responsible for payment of the water and electric charges and where lack of water or electricity is the direct result of the tenant’s failure to pay the water and electric charges.”
After the first thirty (30) days of occupancy, if a tenant’s dwelling becomes unfit for human habitation the tenant may bring an action for breach of the warranty of habitability or raise the breach of the warranty as a defense in a landlord’s action for summary ejectment or distress (actions in which the landlord seeks judgment for nonpayment of rent) if:
- the landlord has notice of the conditions which constitute the breach of warranty and
- the landlord has a reasonable time after notification “to restore a dwelling to a state fit for human habitation if the landlord pursues the work of restoration with diligence and without culpable delay.” If the landlord and tenant dispute what constitutes a reasonable time, it will be a matter of fact to be decided in court. There is a rebuttable presumption that it is unreasonable for a landlord to take more than thirty (30) days to restore the dwelling to a state fit for human habitation. Upon completion of repairs the landlord shall notify the tenant or the Department of Housing and Community Development in writing.
The court may award damages to the tenant retroactively to the date of the landlord’s actual knowledge of the breach of the warranty. Damages shall be “the amount of rent paid or owed by the tenant during the time of the breach less the reasonable rental value of the dwelling in its deteriorated condition.”
If the conditions are caused by the tenant, a member of his family or visitor, the tenant will be responsible for the cost of the repairs and the cost shall be collected as rent. Therefore, the landlord will be able to seek payment for the repairs in a summary ejectment action or action for distress.
Read the Law: Baltimore City Public Local Laws § 9-14.1