District of Columbia Fire and EMS crews were called to the apartment building in the 2300 block of 24th Street SE around 9 a.m. Wednesday after a woman fell through a loose floorboard. The woman has been transported to an area hospital in serious condition.
Under Maryland law, if a landlord fails to repair serious or dangerous defects in a rental unit, you have the right to pay your rent into an escrow account established at the local district court. The escrow account can only be set up by the court.
The law is very specific about the conditions under which rent may be placed in escrow. Rent escrow is not provided for defects that just make the apartment or homeless attractive or comfortable, such as small cracks in the floors, walls or ceiling.
You must give the landlord proper notice and adequate time to make the repairs before you have the right to place rent in escrow. In order to withhold rent for conditions that constitute a threat to life, health or safety you must notify the landlord by providing actual notice or by certified mail, or the landlord must receive notice of the violations from an appropriate government agency such as the local housing department.
The landlord then has a reasonable amount of time after receipt of the notice in which to correct the conditions. If the landlord fails to do this, you may go to court to file a rent escrow action asking to pay the rent to the court.
The serious or dangerous conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of heat, light, electricity or water, unless you are responsible for the utilities and the utilities were shut off because you didn't pay the bill.
- Lack of adequate sewage disposal; rodent infestation in two or more units.
- Lead paint hazards that the landlord has failed to reduce.
- The existence of any structural defect that presents a serious threat to your physical safety.
- The existence of any condition that presents a serious fire or health hazard.
Besides rent escrow, a tenant can report the landlord to local authorities. Under a law that was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1986, every county in the state must adopt a housing code that meets minimum statewide standards. Some counties and Baltimore City already have comprehensive housing and building codes that are enforced by local authorities. The local authorities will investigate your complaints and, if the landlord is cited for violations, repairs will have to be made.