You have to give your landlord a written demand to make repairs by certified mail ( a written notice from a housing inspector is also sufficient). The landlord must have a reasonable time to make the repair -- beyond 30 days is normally considered unreasonable.
If the landlord does not make the repair, then the tenant may file for a rent escrow hearing. Such affirmative rent escrow allows the tenant to seek rent escrow before having to withhold rent. Many tenants, however, after giving the landlord reasonable time, withhold rent and are taken to Rent Court by the landlord. At that point, the tenant may request rent escrow. Although this is normally a faster process, it does involve some risk for the tenant.
If the judge does not grant escrow, the tenant may have to pay late charges and court costs.
To establish rent escrow, the tenant must have a case which would include the following:
proper notice to the landlord
repair which could affect life, health and safety
damages which were not caused by the tenant
a condition which has not been remedied
the tenant has not refused reasonable entry for the landlord to make repair
the tenant has a good rent record
The tenant must also have the full rent to pay to the court.
If the decision is in favor of the tenant, the judge may order the landlord to:
make the needed repair
reduce the rent to an amount that fairly represents the condition of the premises
order the rent to be paid to the court with a refund of part of the rent to be given to the tenant when the repairs are made
If the tenant desires, the judge may also end the tenancy.
The hope in a rent escrow situation is that the landlord will make the needed repairs after receiving the tenant's certified letter and that the tenant will not have to go to court. This is more likely if the tenant also files a complaint with a local housing inspector.
Baltimore City law now allows rent escrow to be used to cover items not essential to health and safety, if such were promised in the written lease or in a written inducement to rent. For example, failure to repair a dishwasher or failure to provide promised free parking.
This is a long, drawn out process. If you're leaving anyway, and you don't have a written lease, you should just give 30 days notice that you're moving out and there is no fuss.