J. Paul Reiger, Jr. of First American Title Insurance Company and John P. Machen of the Baltimore City Law Department contributed the following summary of SB642/HB1308 passed during the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly:
This bill supersedes the Maryland Court of Appeal’s decision in Nickens v. Mount Vernon Realty Group, et al., 429 Md. 53 (2012). It prohibits a party claiming the right to possession (including pursuant to a contract, lease, foreclosure or court order) from taking possession or threatening to take possession of residential property from a protected resident (including an owner, former owner and such owner’s tenants and sub tenants – but not a trespasser or squatter) by (1) locking the resident out of the residential property; (2) engaging in willful diminution of services to the protected resident; or (3) taking any other action that deprives the protected resident of actual possession. Possession may only be taken from a protected resident in accordance with a writ of possession issued by a court and executed by a sheriff or constable. Residential property is defined as a building, structure, or portion of a building or structure that is designed principally and is intended for human habitation.
The bill authorizes a party claiming the right of possession of residential property to use nonjudicial self-help to take possession of the property if the party reasonably believes the protected resident has abandoned or surrendered possession of the property based on a reasonable inquiry into the property’s occupancy status. The party must also provide a specified notice and receive no responsive communication to that notice within 15 days after the later of posting or mailing the notice. The notice must be posted on the front door of the residential property and mailed by first-class mail, addressed to “all occupants,” and contain the statement “Important notice to all occupants: eviction information enclosed; open immediately” in a specified form on the outside of the envelope.
The nonexclusive remedies granted to a protected resident are (1) possession of the property, if no other person then resides in the property; (2) actual damages; and (3) reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. In the case of a tenant or a tenant holding over, the bill may not be construed to prevent a landlord from taking temporary measures, such as changing the locks, to secure an unsecured residential property. However, a landlord must first make good faith attempts to provide reasonable notice to the tenant that the tenant may promptly be restored to possession of the property.
Slightly different provisions apply to tenants under residential leases and tenants in a mobile home park.
This bill is effective June 1, 2013. Real Property Article 7-112 [or 113], 8-216, and 8A-1102