Lockout can get landlord in hot water

FOR RENTERS

February 13, 1994|By George B. Laurent

One of the worst things that can happen to a tenant is to come home at night and find that the landlord has changed the locks.

All the tenant's possessions are in the apartment -- including the clothes he needs for work -- and he has no place to go. On other occasions, the landlord may not lock out the tenant, but cuts off the water or other utilities to which the tenant is entitled.

The cause for such action usually follows a tenant being behind in rent or staying after the day the tenant was to vacate the apartment. Sometimes, however, it is simply the result of an argument between the tenant and landlord.

Such action rarely involves a professional landlord, but there are numerous incidents involving nonprofessional landlords.

The basic principle is that a landlord cannot take the law into his own hands. If rent is owed or a tenant has not vacated the premises when he should have, then the landlord's remedy is to take the tenant to court.

Should a lockout occur or services be diminished, then a tenant can sue a landlord for damages. A tenant also has the right to hire a locksmith, change the locks, re-enter the premises, and hold the landlord responsible for the cost involved.

In addition, in Baltimore City, a landlord who locks out a tenant or diminishes services to which the tenant is entitled can be fined up to $500 and receive a 10-day jail sentence. The tenant may file a complaint with a commissioner at Northern District Court, -- 3355 Keswick Road -- 467-8009, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

In Baltimore County, such action by a landlord is a violation of the County Code and can result in a fine of $100 to $500 per day. The tenant may file a complaint with the Livability Code Enforcement Office, One Investment Place, Towson -- 887-4032, between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

A landlord may well have a legitimate gripe about the conduct of a tenant. However, locking a tenant out or cutting off water is not only a brutal action, it is defiance of the law. There is enough lawbreaking in our society without responsible citizens setting a poor example.

QUESTIONS?

Send questions to BNI, 2217 St. Paul St., Baltimore 21218. Or comment on Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6171 after you hear the greeting.

For questions about specific tenant-landlord problems, call the BNI staff at (410) 243-6007.

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