Leases, deposits, noise can strain tenant-landlord ties

Over 22,000 calls came into Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. during the 12 months that ended June 30. Eighty percent of them were from tenants -- and many were complaints about landlords and neighboring tenants.

Here are some of the most common problems:


* Noise:

Probably the most difficult problem in the tenant-landlord relationship is when a tenant complains to a landlord about another tenant -- usually about the other tenant making too much noise. What may a landlord do? Must a landlord do anything? What are the rights of a tenant? If the landlord refuses to help, may a tenant break the lease without penalty?


* Security deposit:

Many tenants want to know the rules about security deposits, and when it can be withheld by the landlord. Some landlords and many tenants do not know that landlords can lose the right to keep all or part of the security deposit for damage to the apartment if the landlord fails to inform tenants of his rights under Maryland law.

Other common questions: What justifies a charge against the security deposit? And if a tenant gives the landlord a deposit and then decides not to rent, may the landlord keep the deposit?

* Lease:

What if there is no lease? What is the landlord's responsibility if the tenant's property is damaged -- by a ruptured water line, by fire, by an employee of the landlord?

Are there clauses in some leases that tenants should not agree to? * Maintenance:

What should be done when a landlord has promised to have an apartment in good shape for a tenant to move into and the work is not done? Or if the landlord has promised repairs for months but does nothing?

* Picking tenants:


Must a landlord accept the first person who answers an ad, or may a landlord choose among several applicants? For what reasons may a landlord reject a tenant, and what reasons would be in violation of fair housing laws?

And what steps can landlords take to protect themselves from renting to undesirable tenants? On the other hand, what can tenants do to protect themselves from becoming involved with a bad landlord? How can a tenant check out a landlord?

We will be writing about these issues, and many more, in the weeks ahead.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.