The law provides for certain situations in which an amount otherwise owed for rent is either excused altogether, or cannot be enforced (at the time), due to technical failures by the landlord. When these situations exist, they are called “defenses.” While not all defenses excuse the obligation to pay rent, they can extend the time the tenant has to pay the rent or provide leverage for a workout agreement. Sometimes the case can be dismissed.
Some common defenses are as follows:
The landlord does not have a rental license or the rental license is expired. If the landlord does not have a current and valid rental license and does not qualify for an exemption, the landlord cannot maintain suit in landlord/tenant court. In this instance, the tenant may be entitled to have the case dismissed. But, the landlord may re-file the suit once it obtains its rental license. License information can sometimes be found on file with the housing or permitting department for the county in which the property is located.
The Landlord does not have a current Maryland Department of the Environment registration. Rental units built before 1978 must be either registered with the Maryland Department of the Environment or exempted from registration. If the landlord has not obtained exemption and is not current on registration of its pre 1978 rental, the landlord is not entitled to file a Failure to Pay Rent - Landlord's Complaint for Repossession of Real Property, and the tenant may be entitled to have the case dismissed. The Maryland Department of the Environment maintains records on whether a property is properly registered or exempted. Contact information can be found here on their website: https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/LAND/LeadPoisoningPrevention/Pages/LeadRegistration.aspx
The landlord failed to correct a dangerous condition at the property. See Rent Escrow - Repairs for more information on this defense, which applies when the landlord does not make repairs to the rental or building as required.
The landlord’s LLC, corporation, or limited partnership is not in good standing. If the landlord’s LLC, corporation, or limited partnership is not in good standing, the landlord cannot maintain a lawsuit. At a minimum, the tenant may be able to seek a continuance of the court date, which will also serve to allow the landlord time to obtain good standing status. The Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation maintains records on whether an entity is in good standing. There website is here: https://egov.maryland.gov/BusinessExpress/EntitySearch
The landlord’s LLC, corporation, or limited partnership is forfeited. If the landlord’s LLC, corporation, or limited partnership is forfeited, the landlord cannot maintain a lawsuit. In this instance, the tenant may be entitled to have the case dismissed. But, the landlord may re-file the suit once the LLC, corporation, or limited partnership is reinstated. To find out whether landlord is in good standing, search here: https://egov.maryland.gov/BusinessExpress/EntitySearch
A tenant who believes that a defense exists should either obtain an attorney and/or appear in court and notify the judge. Regardless of whether or not a tenant has an attorney, tenants are required to show proof as to why the tenant believes a defense exists.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This post was written by LaVonne Torrence Berner, principal attorney at Torrence Law Office, LLC.
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