How-to Monday: Help for renters -- and landlords
What can you do if the heater in the apartment you're renting conks out this winter and your landlord won't fix it?
Or if you're facing eviction and need to know your options?
Or, for that matter, if you're the landlord and your tenant is driving you to distraction?
A local group has answers.
Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that works statewide, has a tenant-landlord counseling arm that offers information to renters and rental owners alike.
"The majority of the calls we get on a regular basis, day to day, are rent court issues," said Stephanie D. Cornish, program manager for the tenant-landlord counseling department. "The process for eviction, security-deposit issues, breach-of-lease issues, right of entry ..."
Heat is another frequent topic this time of year. Local laws across the state require that rental properties have a working heating system.
If you're renting a place and the heat goes out, Cornish recommends notifying the landlord immediately -- and in writing. "Normally a landlord is allowed at least 30 days to make a general repair, but hot water and heat being essential services are not things they can wait 30 days to take care of," she said.
It's not always a quick matter to get a contractor in to fix a furnace, she notes. Landlords should make accommodations for renters in the meantime if it's freezing -- setting up radiator heaters that plug into the walls, for instance. (If your landlord's not doing anything for you, call your local housing inspectors to complain, Cornish suggests.)
Baltimore Neighborhoods got more than 330 calls about "essential services" last fiscal year. Some were from landlords who were hoping they could, say, shut off the water to deal with a nightmare renter. (For the record: No, Cornish says. In fact, it's a misdemeanor in Baltimore City and Baltimore County to deliberately deny essential services.)
In her opinion, there aren't many true slumlords around here. "But there are bad landlords, and there are good landlords that are about to turn bad," she said. "And some of that's about the tenants."
In October alone, Baltimore City landlords filed about 13,000 requests to evict tenants for non-payment. Yes. Just in October. But only about 400 evictions came of those requests, mainly because renters came up with the money in time to stay put.
You can reach Baltimore Neighborhoods' tenant-landlord counseling hotline at 410-243-6007 or 800-487-6007. The group also sells a guide to landlord-tenant laws. (Most of the buyers are landlords.)
"People should take the time to understand what the laws are and how they work," Cornish said. In these housing-slump times, when it's easier to rent than sell, "There are a lot more people becoming landlords than getting out of the business, and there are a lot of people becoming landlords who have no clue of what the laws are."