RENTERS’ RIGHTS

Maryland State

Someone who rents out a house … for a fixed period of time cannot rescind the lease or evict the tenant during this time. Even if the landlord’s house falls down and they have nowhere to live, and even if they are poor and need to sell the property, they cannot evict the tenant and … the landlord must leave the property in the hands of the renter until the lease expires.

— The Tur, Choshen Mishpat 312: 1-2

Since the beginning of Jewish history, when the Torah reports that Adam and Eve were expelled from their home in the Garden of Eden, the human need for housing has been central to Jewish thought. Our sacred texts recognize that having safe, stable housing is key to a healthy society, and we know that it is key to reducing racial inequities. Our texts are full of conversation, laws, and traditions about the obligations of landlords and tenants, about how homes should be built safely, and about making sure that people can remain in their homes. These obligations have taken on even more urgency in the past three years: all people should be able to stay in their homes, especially during a pandemic.

The pandemic is ongoing, and many are still confronting increased economic hardship, skyrocketing rents, the shortcomings of eviction prevention policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness. Emergency rental assistance is one critical intervention that can help keep thousands of Marylanders housed right now.

Who’s Impacted:

  • Renters living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. People who face eviction in Rent Court are overwhelmingly Black women, households with minor children, and people who do not receive a housing subsidy.

Key Committees:

  • Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
  • House Judiciary Committee (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
  • Senate Budget and Taxation (B&T), Chair: Guy Guzzone (Howard County)
  • House Appropriations (APP), Chair: TBA
  • House Environment and Transportation (ENT), Chair: Kumar Barve (Montgomery County)

Legislative Details:

  • Emergency Rental Assistance
    • Currently, rental assistance funds are running out as rents skyrocket and eviction rates eclipse pre-pandemic levels.
    • Maintaining pandemic rental relief and allocating funds for both emergency and permanent rental assistance would keep thousands of Marylanders housed now and in the long term.
    • Renters United Maryland is still determining its priorities. Once that happens, JUFJ’s Maryland Core Team will identify a second renters’ rights priority, potentially rent stabilization measures, just cause eviction standards, or upholding rental licensing. We will update the community of this additional area of focus before session. 

Key Partners: Renters United Maryland, including: CASA, Health Care for the Homeless, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under LawPublic Justice Center, and Disability Rights Maryland

As we build on our organizing and advocacy from the past few years, JUFJ prioritizes deepening relationships with existing partners and coalitions and honoring the commitments we have made in past years.

To maximize our effectiveness, we engage in a full scope of work on a limited number of campaigns, and impact other campaigns in a more limited way by submitting official JUFJ testimony and/or signing JUFJ’s name to a list of supporters. For more information about our agenda setting process for the Maryland 2023 state legislative session, click here.

Additional Legislative Positions:

In addition to JUFJ’s key legislative priorities, we support and will provide testimony on the following bills:

  • Eviction Diversion (HB691/SB564) – Increase due process for renters facing eviction and provide increased opportunities for existing protections and resources to reach resolutions other than eviction.
  • Just Cause Eviction (HB881) – Prohibit landlords from terminating or not renewing leases unless they have a legitimate reason to do so.
  • Tenant Screening (HB134) – Reform the tenant screening industry, which is currently a barrier to housing.
  • Tenants’ Right to Organize (HB392) – Establish a right for renters to organize among themselves for collective action in tenant/landlord matters and prevent landlord interference.
  • Tenant Protection Act (HB86/SB6) – Provides Maryland renters four concise, long-needed, meaningful reforms that help balance landlord-tenant relations.
  • Lead Inspection Certificate and Rental License Proof in Failure to Pay Rent actions (HB101) – This will provide more enforcement of lead inspection and rental licensing requirements.
  • Rental License Proof in Failure to Pay Rent actions (HB174) – Supports localities in the enforcement of their rental licensing ordinances.
  • Reducing Eviction Filings (HB298/SB223) – raises filing fees for landlords to evict renters

Maryland State

One who rents a house to another is obligated to construct doors and to fix broken windows, to reinforce the ceiling and to fix broken beams, and to provide a bolt and a lock and similar things which are produced by skilled craftspeople and which are essential to living in a house.  

– Maimonides, Laws of Rental 6:3

The Torah obligates us to preserve our own life and health, and that of others. The Gemara in Bava Kamma teaches that, in response to a plague, we have an obligation to stay in our homes as much as possible. We are also taught that all people should have dei machsoro, resources sufficient for each person’s needs. (Deut. 15:7-8) Consequently, society has an obligation to make sure that people can stay in their homes, especially during a time of pandemic.

Safe and stable housing has far reaching economic, health, and social benefits to individuals, families, and communities, and is key to reducing racial inequities. Renters routinely have little agency when faced with threats to maintaining stable housing. Now many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction mitigation policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The People: Renters who are living at or below the poverty line and/or who have experienced pandemic-related loss of income. Those who find themselves in rent court are overwhelmingly women, African Americans, households with minor children, and who receive no housing subsidy.

The Legislation:

  • Emergency Response:
    • Eviction prevention – Expand current policy to cover all eviction filings until January 31, 2022 to allow for economic recovery and additional legislative action as needed.
    • Robust rental assistance – Allocate at least $244M to provide rental assistance for citizens and non-citizens to prevent evictions. Funds should go directly to landlords, who would have to certify that the money is used to satisfy the debt of their tenants.
    • Just Cause Eviction – Prohibit landlords from terminating the lease of a tenant unless they have a legitimate reason to do so. During a pandemic, failure to pay rent is not a legitimate reason. Landlords should not be permitted to terminate leases or choose not to renew them unless they truly have a good reason.
    • Tenant Screening Reform – Establish tenant screening regulations to prevent the use of irrelevant, incomplete or inaccurate information that creates barriers to adequate housing. Tenants should have a rapid method to challenge questionable information. Expungement of eviction records should be permitted and evictions that do not involve monetary issues should be excluded from credit reports.
  • Structural Change:
    • Safe and habitable housing – Reform the rent escrow process and enforcement mechanisms for tenants whose landlords fail to remedy unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Legislation should define uniform standards for mold assessment and remediation, and allow a renter to terminate a lease early if defects are not addressed.
    • Due process – Change the process for eviction filings to be more fair and equitable for renters. Specifically, tenants should have at least 21 days notice rather than 5 days from the filling of an eviction complaint to a court date.
    • Right to Counsel – Provide tenants with the right to legal counsel/representation in rent court. This would provide greater equity in court, where currently less than 5% of tenants have legal counsel, while landlords are represented in over 95% of cases. Moreover, a recent study in Baltimore City concluded that establishing a right to counsel would reduce evictions and thereby save the State $18.1M due to decreased Medicaid and foster care costs.
    • Collection of eviction data – Establish a system to accurately track eviction data across Maryland that would better define the scope of the problem and guide the development of policy to reduce the incidence of eviction and stabilize housing.

Key Partners: CASA, Renters’ United Maryland.

Related Events

  • Montgomery County Housing Team Meeting

    December 13 | 12:00 pm1:30 pm

    Join us for our next Housing Team meeting to get updates about current affordable housing campaigns and take action together. Everyone is welcome! You will receive call-in instructions via email after you RSVP.

  • Maryland Community Meeting & Chanukah Candle Lighting

    December 21 | 7:30 pm9:30 pm

    Join us for our next virtual Maryland Community Meeting, where the Maryland Center on Economic Policy will present on budget advocacy. MDCEP’s training will cover how folks can advocate on budget issues, especially in light of the state’s new budget process this year. We will begin the meeting w…

  • Maryland Community Meeting

    January 11, 2023 | 7:30 pm9:30 pm

    Join us for our next Maryland Community Meeting, where we’ll discuss campaign updates and how we can best move our work forward. All are welcome!

Campaign Organizers