Topics on this page:
- Housing Discrimination
- Notice of Flood Plain Areas
- Essential Services
- Heating Requirements and Minimum Temperatures
- Livability Code
- Fire and Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Prevention
- Rodent and Pest Control
- Owner Responsibility for Maintenance of Investment Property
- Rent Escrow
- Eviction - Tenant's Possessions
The following rental housing laws and rules apply specifically to residents and property in Baltimore County. Maryland state law may also apply. Some of these rules only apply to residential property. This article is not an exhaustive list of all Baltimore County rental and housing laws. Review the Baltimore County Code for more information.
Baltimore County law prohibit housing discrimination based on race, creed, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, status as a veteran, source of income, or physical or mental disability, with some very specific exceptions.
Sales and rentals - A person who has the right to sell, rent, control, construct, or manage a dwelling may not engage in discrimination:
- in making or causing the making, printing, or publishing of a notice, statement, or advertisement regarding the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates a preference or limitation;
- in representing to a person that a dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental, if the dwelling is in fact available;
- in refusing to negotiate for the sale or rental of a dwelling;
- in refusing to sell or rent a dwelling after the making of a bona fide offer;
- in refusing to make a dwelling available;
- in restricting the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling;
- in restricting the provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling;
- by including a discriminatory restrictive covenant in the transfer, sale, or rental of housing; or
- by honoring, exercising, attempting to honor, or attempting to exercise a discriminatory restrictive covenant.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-102(a)
A person may not engage in discrimination in denying a person access, membership, or participation in or restricting the terms and conditions of access, membership, or participation in a multiple listing service, real estate brokers' organization, or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting dwellings.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-102(b)
A person may not engage in discrimination by representing that the existing or potential proximity of real property owned, used, or occupied by persons of a particular race, creed, religion, physical or mental disability, color, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, status as a veteran, source of income, or marital status will or may result in:
- The lowering of property values;
- A change in the racial, religious, or ethnic character of the block, neighborhood, or area in which the property is located; or
- A decline in quality of the schools and institutions serving the area.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-102(c)
A person may not engage in discrimination:
- by knowingly inducing or attempting to induce another person to transfer an interest in real property by making the prohibited representations described above;
- in placing a sign, display, or device designed to indicate that a bona fide offer is being made to sell, rent, assign, transfer, or otherwise dispose of a dwelling if, in fact, the property is not being offered for sale, rent, assignment, or transfer; or
- in maintaining a sale, rent, assignment, transfer, or other similar sign for more than 7 days at a dwelling after the execution of a contract or written agreement for the sale, rental, assignment, or transfer of the dwelling.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-102(d)
Restrictive covenants - Discriminatory restrictive covenants are null and void. Anyone may refuse to accept a document affecting title to property if the document includes a discriminatory restrictive covenant. The refusal is not a breach of contract to buy, lease, mortgage, etc.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-103
Exceptions- The Baltimore County laws prohibiting housing discrimination do not apply:
- the rental of a room or apartment in an owner-occupied dwelling containing only 1 rental unit;
- as to discrimination based on age only, these laws do not apply to (1) a medical, health, or educational institution established for a specific age group; (2) a domiciliary, retirement, or senior citizens' home or facility; or (3) a licensed facility for preschool children;
- certain private membership clubs; and
- certain religious organization dwellings.
In addition, the law does not prohibit preferences extended to veterans, to the extent authorized by state and federal law.
For source of income, a person from verifying, in a commercially reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner, the ability of a potential buyer or renter to pay or purchase price or a pay rent. There are additional exclusions related to source of income for certain sales and rentals.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-104
Financial Practices - There are additional prohibitions against discrimination in financing related to the purchase, construction, improvement, repair, or maintenance of a dwelling.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-2-403
Enforcement - The Baltimore County Human Relations Commission investigates complaints of discrimination, conduct studies, surveys, and public hearings, and make recommendations to the county executive and the county council. A complaint of an alleged violation of this must be filed by the aggrieved person within 6 months after the act occurred or was discovered by the complainant. The complaint must be in writing, under oath, on a form provided by the Commission. Any information that would reveal the identity of the complainant or the respondent is kept confidential until the complaint reaches the administrative hearing stage, with some exceptions.
The Commission will investigate the complaint and, if the facts warrant, seek a remedy through conference and conciliation. If the conciliation procedure does not result in an agreed-upon solution, the Commission will hold a public hearing. Decisions and orders of the Commission may be appealed. The Commission may seek court enforcement of a decision or order.
If the Commission finds that the complaint was filed in bad faith and without substantial justification, the complainant may be assessed the expenses incurred by the Commission.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 29-3-112
Flood Plain Areas: Notice to tenant of multi-family dwellings
When any part of a multi-family rental facility, including the parking lot, is within the 100-year flood plain on a Flood Hazard Area Map of the Federal Insurance Administration or on the Flood Plain Map of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or is so designated on other available flood plain data, a specific acknowledgment must be contained in the lease for any tenant who would occupy a building within a Flood Hazard Area, or who would use a parking area or storage facility, any part of which is within a Flood Hazard Area.
Any lease which is subject to this law and which does not comply with these requirements will be unenforceable by the landlord. Anyone violating this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 of imprisonment of up to 30 days, or both.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-3-302
A landlord may not reduce or withhold essential services from the tenant. Essential services include means of ingress or egress, gas, electricity, water, heat, light, and furniture, furnishings, or similar services to which the tenant may be entitled under the express or implied terms of the tenancy. A violation of this law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Read the law: Baltimore County Code § 35-3-101
If the landlord does not restore the service, the tenant can ask the police to make a report. A copy of the report is given to the tenant, who can then take it to a District Court Commissioner to request charging the landlord with a criminal violation of the Code.
Follow the instructions printed on the police report. If the Commissioner finds probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, the Commissioner will issue a statement of charges against landlord and set a trial date, usually within 2 weeks of the date of tenant’s complaint. Even if the landlord restores the service prior to the trial date, the trial will take place.
Minimum Temperatures and Heating Systems in Dwelling Units
Between October 15 and April 15, inclusive, of each year, the owner of every building containing one, two, or three rental dwelling units must comply with the following: Where the heat is not under the control of the tenant and the outdoor temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit or above, the owner must maintain a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures must be maintained as an average of the readings in the rooms, and are measured at the center of each room at a height of 3 feet above the floor. If the owner fails to provide the required heat or equipment, the tenant may use any remedy or defense provided by the County Rent Escrow Law.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-4-202
The Baltimore County Livability Code protects the public health, safety and welfare in the use and occupancy of dwellings as well as sets minimum standards for basic equipment and facilities and for safe and sanitary maintenance of residential structures and premises. The Code lays out the responsibilities of owners, operators, and tenants and is enforced by the Baltimore County Department of Community Development.
The Livability Code applies to all residential structures used for human habitation except: owner-occupied single family units, and housing exempted by the Department of Community Development in accordance with state regulation. Generally, all premises in Baltimore County must be kept in a clean, safe, and sanitary condition and be free from infestation. A housing unit may not be leased to anyone for occupancy or use unless the structure and premises comply with the provisions of this Code.
Waivers - A property owner may request waivers for certain code requirements if:
- the tenant receives adequate notice in a form and manner specified by the Department of Community Development;
- the tenant is given an opportunity to comment in writing or in person; and
- the waiver would not threaten the tenant's health or safety.
A waiver continues beyond the term of the current tenant. Any prospective tenant applying to lease the unit must be notified that a waiver has been granted for that unit and that occupancy will be subject to the waiver. However, a waiver will not supersede the state fire, elevator, or boiler laws.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-5-205
Owner Responsibility - Unless specifically provided otherwise in this Code, only the property owner is responsible for compliance with this Code. However, the owner will not be cited for a violation caused by the negligent, wrongful, or malicious act or omission of a tenant, provided the owner’s own act or omission did not in any way contribute to the violation.
Retaliation - A property owner may not evict a tenant solely due to the tenant's complaint to the Code Official of an alleged violation of this Code.
Read the Rule: Baltimore County Code § 35-5-204
Sanitation - The tenant must:
- keep the part of the structure or premises that the tenant occupies, controls, or uses, in a clean and sanitary condition;
- store and dispose of rubbish and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner as required by law;
- keep owner-supplied equipment and fixtures clean and sanitary and exercise reasonable care in using and operating the equipment; and
- properly install and maintain equipment and fixtures that are furnished by the tenant, and keep the equipment and fixtures in good working condition, clean and sanitary, and free of defects, leaks, or obstructions.
Tenant may be given a citation for failure to fulfill a responsibility imposed by this Code. The owner of a structure containing 2 or more housing units must keep clean the common areas of the premises and maintain the equipment and fixtures supplied by the property owner in good working condition.
Read the Rule: Baltimore County Code § 35-5-206
Unsafe structures; orders to vacate - When the Code Official finds that a structure or part of a structure is unsafe or unfit for human use or occupancy, the official may order it: condemned; placarded (boarded up) and vacated. The structure or that part of the structure may not be reoccupied without approval of the Code Official. Unsafe equipment may also be condemned, placarded, and put out of use. If the property owner fails to close or vacate the premises within the time specified in the order, the Code Official may close the premises. The cost will be a lien upon the property.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-5-203
When a tenant must leave a structure because of an order to vacate or an order to make certain repairs required under this Code, the property owner must make prompt, reasonable, and good faith efforts to locate alternative housing of comparable affordability within a reasonable distance of the structure.
- Unless emergency conditions require the tenant to leave immediately, the tenant must be given reasonable time to leave.
- Persons entitled to replacement housing are: tenants of the structure at the time the condemnation order or order to repair is issued, and any person who is required to leave the structure as a result of the order.
- If the tenant’s displacement is caused by tenant’s own negligent, wrongful, or malicious act or omission, or if it is caused by an act of God or other condition beyond the control of the owner, the owner is not required to locate alternative housing.
- If the owner refuses or is unable to find alternative housing, the County may provide alternative housing. The County may provide alternative housing until one of the following occurs: the Code Official authorizes reoccupation of the structure; tenant’s lease term has expired; or a period of 6 months has passed since the order to vacate was issued.
- Any cost incurred by the County in relocating tenants will be a lien against the property.
- A displaced tenant continues to be responsible for the same amount of rent which was paid immediately prior to displacement. If the rent for the alternative housing is greater, the property owner is responsible for the difference until the end of tenant’s lease term or 6 months, whichever is less.
The Livability Code also specifically addresses the following topics:
- Exterior Structures (§ 35-5-208)
- Interior Structures (§ 35-5-209)
- Repairs (§ 35-5-103; §35-5-201)
- Common Areas (§ 35-5-206)
- Lead Paint Abatement (§ 35-5-209)
- Light and Ventilation Requirements (§ 35-5-210)
- Plumbing Facilities and Fixtures (§ 35-5-211)
- Cooking and Heating Equipment (§ 35-5-212)
- Fire Safety and Fire Protection Systems (§ 35-5-213)
- Hazardous Accumulations (§ 35-5-214)
- Insect and Rodent Infestations (§ 35-5-206)
Owner Responsibility for Maintenance of Investment Property
An "investment property" includes a residential property where the owner derives rental income. Generally, the owner must maintain, replace, or repair any of the following which are missing or deteriorated:
- Exterior architectural features which create an unsafe condition;
- Exterior walls or other vertical supports;
- Roofs or other horizontal features;
- Exterior chimneys;
- Crumbling or exterior plaster or masonry;
- Ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, and foundations; and
- All other exterior construction, including broken windows and doors.
Trash - The owner must remove trash, rubbish, or other debris from the premises of the investment property. The owner of investment property located immediately adjacent to a residence must keep all trash containers and receptacles with a capacity in excess of 40 gallons in the rear yard of the property or screened, by natural or artificial means, from public view.
Fire and Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Prevention
The owner of any building containing 1, 2, or 3 residential rental units must install at least one direct-wired, electronically operated smoke detector in each unit. In buildings constructed before 1976, the owner must also provide battery powered back-up systems. Installation of the detectors must comply with the County Building Code requirements for installation in new 1 and 2 family dwellings. Every third year, the owner of every rental dwelling unit must submit to the County Department of Permits and Licenses a written verification by a licensed electrician or the County Fire Department that the required smoke detectors are properly installed and operating.
The owner of the dwelling unit is responsible for maintenance, repair, and replacement of a smoke detector if the owner received written notice by certified mail from the occupant that the smoke detector is not in operating condition. Neither the owner nor the occupant may remove a smoke detector or make it inoperative.
Read the law: Baltimore County Code § 14-2-201
Carbon Monoxide Alarms - For all rental properties, whether newly constructed or already existing, in which fuel burning equipment is installed or that is otherwise heated by fuel burning equipment or that is attached to an enclosed parking area, a carbon monoxide alarm must:
- be installed in the common area outside of, and audible in, each sleeping area in the housing unit;
- be attached to a wall or ceiling and tested and properly maintained; and
- sound a distinctively different alarm than a smoke alarm within the same housing unit.
The property owner must:
- supply and install one or more carbon monoxide alarms;
- provide written information on alarm testing and maintenance to at least one adult occupant of the housing unit; and
- secure and maintain the signature of the adult receiving the written information.
Upon receiving notice from the tenant, the property owner is responsible for the repair or replacement of carbon monoxide alarms.
An occupant must:
- test and maintain carbon monoxide alarms according to the manufacturer's guidelines;
- teplace batteries as needed; and
- immediately notify the property owner, by certified mail, of any malfunction or other problem of the carbon monoxide alarm.
For newly constructed buildings (built on or after January 1, 2008), the alarm must be hardwired and have a battery backup. For older buildings it must be hardwired, plugged into an electrical outlet, or battery powered.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-5-213.1
Review the Baltimore Fire Prevention Code for related topics, including grills, outdoor fires, and residential sprinkler systems.
Rodent and Vermin Control
All buildings in the county must be free of rats and mice and must be maintained in a rat-/mouse-proof condition as provided in the county building code. The occupant or owner of a building must eliminate rat harborages and conditions conducive to the existence of a rat harborage. In addition, the owner or occupant must not allow the building to be infested with insects, such as, but not limited to, cockroaches, fleas, and lice, which can spread disease to human beings. An owner must not allow mosquitoes to breed on the premises.
“Owner” generally means the actual owner or the agent or custodian of a building; however, where the lease terms hold the tenant responsible for maintenance and repair, “owner” includes the tenant.
Where there are certain serious defects in a residential dwelling and the landlord has failed to correct them within a reasonable time, Baltimore County's rent escrow law permits the tenant to pay the rent to court so that funds may accumulate and be used to pay for needed repairs. This applies to residential property only.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code, Article 35, Title 4
The serious defects are those that constitute or, if not promptly corrected, will constitute a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health, or safety of the occupants, including:
- lack of hot or cold running water (except where tenant pays for water and the lack of water is a result of his failure to pay the water charge).
- lack of heat, light, electricity, or adequate sewage disposal facilities.
- an infestation of rodents (except in one-family dwellings).
- the presence of lead paint on interior surfaces, provided the landlord has notice of the painted surfaces and provided such condition violates state or county laws or regulations.
The tenant may use any of the conditions listed as a defense to an action of distress for rent or an action brought by landlord to recover rent or possession of the premises for non-payment of rent. The tenant may also file a declaration in the District Court, claiming the presence of any of the above conditions and asking for relief.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the following conditions, as long as they do not present a serious and substantial threat to the life, health, and safety of the occupants, are not covered by this law and thus cannot be the basis of a successful claim or defense by tenant:
- lack of decorative amenities, such as fresh paint, rugs, carpets or paneling, or other defect which merely reduces the aesthetic value of the premises;
- small cracks in the walls, floors, or ceilings;
- lack of linoleum or tile on the floors, provided the floors are otherwise safe and structurally sound; or
- lack of air-conditioning.
Concerning defects in utilities, this rent escrow law applies only to those utilities which the tenant was entitled to receive when the lease began, or which the tenant actually received before the court action.
Before using this law to begin an action or as a defense:
- the landlord or landlord's agent was notified of the defective condition in writing by certified mail, or by receipt of a violation notice from a state or county agency;
- After notification, the landlord refused or failed to remedy the condition within a reasonable time (What is a reasonable time is left to the discretion of the court, but a delay beyond 30 days after landlord received the notice is presumed to be beyond a reasonable time. That presumption may be rebutted);
- The tenant pays into court the amount of rent due under the lease, until that amount is modified by court order; AND
- The tenant has not had more than 3 judgments for rent due and unpaid entered against them during the 12 months preceding the beginning of the legal action or, if the tenant has lived on the premises for 6 months or less, has not received 2 or more judgments for rent due and unpaid.
The landlord will prevail if the landlord can prove:
- the condition complained of does not exist;
- the condition has been remedied;
- the condition was caused by tenant or member of his family, or by his or their invitees, assignees or guests; OR
- tenant has unreasonably refused entry, or has unreasonably failed to make arrangements for entry by landlord to make repairs
The initial hearing must be held within 15 calendar days after notice of the hearing is mailed. The court may order an earlier hearing where emergency conditions are alleged, such as failure of heat in winter, lack of adequate sewage facilities, or any other condition which constitutes an immediate threat to the life, health or safety of the inhabitants of the premises.
The court may hold additional hearings to determine the rights and obligations of the parties. Distribution of escrow money can take place only by order of the court after a hearing where both parties were given reasonable notice, or upon motion of both parties, or upon certification by an appropriate agency that the work required to be done has been satisfactorily completed.
At the end of the hearing, the court will make findings of fact and may make any order that the justice of the case requires. The court order may include one or more of the following:
- termination of the lease or surrender of the premises to landlord;
- ordering all the rent money paid into the escrow account to be released to the landlord or to the tenant in accordance;
- ordering the tenant to continue to pay the rent into the escrow account until the defective condition is remedied;
- ordering that the rent, whether paid into escrow or paid to landlord, be reduced by the court to an amount that fairly compensates for the existence of the complained-of condition;
- ordering a portion of the money accumulated in escrow to be released to the tenant (where the landlord has refused to make repairs within a reasonable time), or to the landlord, or to a contractor chosen by the landlord, in order to make repairs. In any case, the court must make an order to ensure that the money is used to make the repairs;
- refer the matter to a county or state agency for investigation and report, and delay final decision until the report is received. During that time tenant will pay into court any rent due; and/or
- order the escrow funds to be used to pay a mortgage on the property to prevent foreclosure.
Whenever an escrow account is established by the court and the condition is not fully remedied within 6 months and the landlord has not made a reasonable effort to remedy the condition, the court may order all money accumulated in the account to be paid to the tenant. The escrow will then continue, beginning a new 6-month period with the same conditions as before.
For 6 months following conclusion of the case, the tenant is protected from eviction, rent increase, or a decrease in any service which the landlord is required by law to provide, unless the court finds that the tenant did not make the declaration or defense "in good faith", or that the rent has been increased or tenant evicted "for good cause." During that first 6 month period, the landlord will have the burden of proving "good cause" or the tenant's lack of "good faith". After that, the burden is on the tenant to prove his own good faith or the landlord's lack of good cause.
"Good cause" for the landlord to evict or raise the rent must include one of the following:
- The condition that is the basis of tenant's complaint or defense was caused by an act or omission of tenant or a member of the tenant's family or their invitees or assignees, beyond ordinary wear and tear.
- The landlord wants in good faith to regain possession of the property so that the landlord may live there immediately upon termination of tenant's lease.
- The landlord has contracted in good faith and in writing to sell the property, and the purchaser plans to live there immediately upon termination of tenant's lease.
- The landlord seeks to raise the rent because the landlord has experienced a substantial increase in taxes or in maintenance or operating costs unrelated to any condition asserted under this law.
- Landlord has completed a substantial capital improvement of the premises that benefits the premises, which is not related to any condition asserted under this law.
The 6-month protection from eviction, rent increase, or decrease in landlord services also applies to a tenant who, in good faith, reports a potential code violation to a state or county agency except that after the initial 6 month period, the landlord may increase the tenants rent. This does not affect tenant's or landlord's right to terminate or not renew a written lease for one year or longer in accordance with the provisions of the lease, but the terms of the lease may not be used to defeat the intent and provisions of this law.
If a landlord intends in good faith to raze or board up the premises and intends to obtain a permit to do so, the landlord may gain possession after giving tenant 60 days' notice.
Any provision of a lease or other agreement purporting to waive any provision of this law benefitting a tenant, resident, or occupant of a dwelling, is against public policy and void.
Eviction: Placement of Tenant's Possessions
Whenever a tenant’s possessions are removed from leased premises in accordance with a properly authorized and executed warrant of restitution, the possessions must be placed on the landlord’s property, either in a location designated by the landlord or, if no location is designated, then on landlord’s property in a location as near as possible to the leased premises.
Tenant’s possessions must not be placed on a public highway or right-of-way or on any other public property. Tenant’s possessions, which are removed from leased premises under a properly issued warrant of restitution, are considered abandoned.
If tenant’s property to be removed is a mobile home or a trailer, the landlord may direct that the property remain at its existing location. The vehicle may not be placed on a county highway or right-of-way or on any public property other than a land disposal site. During the time that it remains on the landlord’s property, it must be posted by landlord as evicted property.
Read the Law: Baltimore County Code § 35-3-103