Under Maryland law, if a landlord fails to repair serious or dangerous defects in a rental unit, you have the right to pay your rent into an escrow account established at the local district court. But the law is very specific about the conditions under which rent may be placed in escrow. You must give the landlord proper notice and adequate time to make the repairs before you have the right to place rent in escrow. The escrow account can only be set up by the court.
The serious or dangerous conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of heat, light, electricity or water, unless you are responsible for the utilities and the utilities were shut off because you didn't pay the bill.
- Lack of adequate sewage disposal; rodent infestation in two or more units.
- Lead paint hazards that the landlord has failed to reduce.
- The existence of any structural defect that presents a serious threat to your physical safety.
- The existence of any condition that presents a serious fire or health hazard.
Rent escrow is not provided for defects that just make the apartment or home less attractive or comfortable, such as small cracks in the floors, walls or ceiling.
In order to withhold rent for conditions that constitute a threat to life, health or safety you must notify the landlord by certified mail, or the landlord must receive notice of the violations from an appropriate government agency such as the local housing department.
The landlord then has a reasonable amount of time after receipt of the notice in which to correct the conditions. If the landlord fails to do this, you may go to court to file a rent escrow action asking to pay the rent to the court.
Before an escrow account can be established, the court will hold a hearing to listen to both sides of the story. If the facts call for a rent escrow account to be set up, the judge can take several actions, including returning all or part of the money to you as compensation, returning all or part of the money to you or the landlord in order to make repairs, or appointing a special administrator to ensure that the repairs are made. Once the escrow account is established, you must continue to regularly pay rent into this account.
You also may withhold rent without establishing an escrow account, but you still must notify the landlord by certified mail of the problems in the unit and of your refusal to pay the rent. However, the landlord could take you to court and try to evict you. You then may defend yourself by telling the court your reasons for withholding rent. If the court agrees that the condition of your home or apartment poses a serious threat to your life, health or safety, you will be required at that time to put your rent payments into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.