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Tenants rights = human rights

Thank you, Maryland Legal Aid. The nonprofit organization that represents low-income Marylanders has published a study, “Human Rights in Maryland’s Rent Courts,” relating to FTPR (Failure to Pay Rent) cases filed in rent courts throughout Maryland in 2012.

The findings present another stark reminder of the difficulties faced by the poor and working-class people in our state. The study found significant due process problems and procedural deficiencies within cases where judgments for possession and money judgments were entered against tenants. Given the number of FRPR cases in Maryland — 614,735  in 2012 — there are many opportunities for procedural deficiencies to lead to improper judgments. If the deficiencies are replicated throughout Maryland, we have a widespread human rights problem. For example, the study found that:

  • In an estimated 107,863 cases statewide, the court entered judgment against tenants where existing Maryland law applicable to FTPR cases was not followed;
  • In an estimated 95,275 cases, at least one of the legally mandated requirements on the FTPR complaint form, including proof of licensing, lead certificate, and military service, was not satisfied and left blank;
  • In an estimated 52,232 cases, the tenants were not served in accordance with Maryland law, but the court entered default judgments for possession against the tenants.

The study presents a number of possible reforms to the rent court system that would weed out cases filed against tenants that contained due process issues or otherwise did not comply with existing law on the face of the complaint. Some of the recommended measures include instituting robust checks of complaints, which would lead to rejection of those that are not compliant with the law or that exclude necessary information and mandating the use of a fillable, PDF complaint form that would ensure that information was provided by the landlord prior to printing and filing the complaint. These reforms, and others noted in the study, would seem an efficient way to ensuring that justice prevails when it comes to our basic human need for adequate housing.

Landlords and their lobbyists may not be thrilled with the study’s findings, of course. The legislative chair of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, an organization serving landlords, raised objections in The Baltimore Sun to the sample size of the study and had issues with the study’s finding of “incorrect case outcomes,” which seemed like a “squishy concept.”

For those about to lose their homes, the concepts are concrete. Attorneys interested in assisting some of the 100,000-plus tenants who may otherwise get squished by incorrect or improper judgments, contact Maryland Volunteer Legal Services or the Pro Bono Resource Center and get the latest on landlord/tenant trainings and clinics.