To Rent or Not to Rent: That Is the Question

A Basic Guide to Landlord Tenant law

landlord tenant lawyerSo, you’ve decided that you want to rent your house to someone. Maybe you’ve just inherited a property. Maybe you’ve decided to buy a new house and let your old property as an extra source of income. Maybe you’ve had to move and the market just isn’t right for selling. Maybe a friend of yours has convinced you that renting a property out is a great source of “passive income.”

Whichever way you get into the business, before you decide to become a landlord, there are a few things that you need to know. The following is meant as a short overview and should not be taken as the end-all, be-all guide to property management.


The first thing you need to think about before you seek a Tenant is: what are the rules that govern rentals? Shockingly, many Landlords have never bothered to check what the laws are. At least once every few days, I get a call from a Landlord who has violated the rules in their particular county. I will ask him/her why they didn’t follow the law. That is usually the point where they say “I didn’t know there were any laws that said” …

Needless to say, before you do anything, you need to know what the law is. As the Law Office of Leonard A. Englander, Esq., LLC, can explain, when you are a Landlord, you are essentially operating a business. It is fair to assume that if you were starting a business (say plumbing), you would check the laws that govern the profession. Astonishingly though, many Landlords do not bother to do so.

There are essentially four types of law that govern rental units: Federal laws, State laws, County laws and Local law. For instance, let’s pretend that you want to rent your home in Annapolis, MD, a wonderful local (I might be biased). The first area of law you would need to check is the Federal law. For the most part, Federal guidelines focus on discrimination and fair housing laws (ie, you can’t discriminated against a Tenant on the basis of race, sex, creed, etc.).  Next, you would need to check out the state law. What are the requirements in the state of Maryland for renting units? Does the property you intend to rent meet the standard required by the state?

Let’s assume you meet those state laws. You have a lead-free license, the house meets state code, etc. Now, you need to see if there are any county-specific laws, which, in Anne Arundel County, MD, there definitely are. For instance, under State law, you don’t need a landlord license to rent a property. Under Anne Arundel County law though, depending on the type of rental (ie. Multi-unit, etc.), you may be required to have a rental license and failure to have it might make it more difficult to claim the rent owed or regain possession through Rent Court.

Lastly, you need to check the local laws. Under Anne Arundel County law, you might not need a license to rent the property, depending on the property. However, under the housing code specific to the locality of Annapolis, you very well might need one!  

In short, you have to check all 4 for compliance or be prepared for some nasty experiences. The statement of “But your Honor, I didn’t know” is not an effective legal defense.