In Wendy Cane v. EZ Rentals, No. 1, September Term 2016, decided November 29, 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the “Court”), Maryland’s highest court, broke new ground in landlord-tenant law. Maryland law provides a residential tenant who experiences serious conditions or defects in a rental unit with a legal remedy known as “rent escrow”. If the condition complained of is sufficiently serious under the law’s wording; a tenant can show the landlord knew of the condition; and the landlord failed to correct the condition then the tenant may be entitled to an abatement or reduction in rent, among other relief.
Wendy Cane’s landlord filed a summary ejectment action against her for unpaid rent and sought possession of her rented house. At trial, she attempted to assert the condition of the dwelling as a defense to her ejectment from it. The trial court held that she could only use the condition of the house to bring a separate action under Maryland’s rent escrow law, not as a defense to her being ejected from the home. The trial court ruled against her, awarding possession of the house to the landlord and entering a judgment against Ms. Cane for unpaid rent. She appealed that decision and the Court thought enough of her appeal to take her case for decision.
On appeal, the Court broke new legal ground in landlord-tenant relations by ruling that Ms. Cane did not need to maintain a separate rent escrow action based on the condition of the property. She could, the Court held, use the property’s condition as a defense to her ejection from it. However, because the Court had a concern over a tenant merely stating that there was a serious defect in the condition of the property, the case was remanded to the trial court so that it could hear Ms. Cane’s complaints and determine if they were sufficient to justify her withholding of rent and assertion that she ought not to be ejected because of the condition of the property.
Subsequent to Ms. Cane’s loss at the trial court level and prior to the decision of the Court, events transpired which effectively terminated the landlord-tenant relationship between her and EZ Rentals. However, in light of the fact that Ms. Cane now had a judgment on record against her the Court felt that her case ought to continue to determine if the judgment against her should remain in place, citing its potential adverse effect on her credit rating. Therefore, the case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings on that basis.
Aidan Smith is an attorney at Pessin Katz Law, P.A. (PK Law). Aidan focuses his practice on general litigation, criminal defense and family law matters. His ability to listen to his clients, assess their issues and concerns and use his knowledge and experience of the criminal and civil judicial systems to help them resolve their situations has been recognized and praised by many of his clients. Aidan can be reached by phone at 410-339-6764 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org