We hear often from tenants whose landlords have advised them not to bother going to court over a grievance, rent or security deposit issue.
“The judge will rule in my favor,” Landlord X tells Tenant Y.
Tenant Y may be discouraged from pursuing the issue because of the landlord’s prediction. After all, renting is the landlord’s business, so he could be expected to be more knowledgeable about property law than the tenant.
But is the landlord right? Maybe, based on the facts known to him.
But even an experienced landlord is unlikely to know the law as well as a judge does and he may not have considered other points that could affect a trial verdict. If the landlord can anticipate all the factors and be certain what the judge will rule, he may want to give up landlording and work out deals to get paid handsomely for his predictions by lawyers who want to know how their cases will go.
One other factor a tenant may want to consider: the landlord is not impartial. If he can avoid a court case, he will save time and money.
Tenants may be at a disadvantage when it comes to rental property law because of lack of legal information. But even if the landlord has studied the basics of rental property law and learned about possible legal issues and how to avoid exposing himself to potential liability, that does not mean the tenant must give up.
Assuming the tenant cannot afford a lawyer to pursue her case and is unable to qualify for assistance from a service such as the Legal Aid Bureau, is she stuck?
Self-help is not the easiest answer, but with a little work she can learn some basics that may help her present her case.
First stop, the People’s Law Library, www.peoples-law.org. The tenant can start with the How Do I link for general information. Other links allow access to relevant sections of the Maryland Code.
Should you go to court prepared to say, “Section 8-211 of the Real Property article says . . .”?
That may not be the best approach, because Section 8-211 may have been the subject of cases where the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, has told us what the language means. The court’s interpretation is not necessarily what the tenant thinks it means.
What the judge wants to hear is your story, what brought you to court. If you say, “I have had no heat in my apartment since November, in spite of repeated written notices to the landlord. It is now January, and I still have no heat,” neurons will light up inside the judge’s brain.
He will be thinking, Real Property article 8-211 says landlord is obligated to repair defects that constitute a serious threat to tenants’ health. No heat can be a serious threat to health.
If the tenant has copies of notices he sent the landlord, he has a good chance to win a verdict in his favor.