In Hunter v. Broadway Overlook, ___ Md. ___, No. 61, Sept. Term, 2017, 2018 WL 1465137 (Md. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2018), the Court of Appeals (Court) held that §8-402.1 of the Real Property Article (RP), which requires a landlord to give a tenant 14 days’ notice to vacate when the notice is a result of the tenant’s dangerous behavior, also requires a landlord to wait for the notice period to expire before filing a breach of lease action. The Court further held that a notice to vacate that fails to set forth the reasons for vacating as required under the tenant’s lease could not be cured by the landlord’s complaint for breach of lease.
Perhaps of greater interest was the Court’s refusal to grant the respondent landlord’s motion to dismiss the appeal as moot when the landlord realized that its position lacked merit.
Shontel Hunter was a tenant of Broadway Overlook, the landlord. After Ms. Hunter allegedly threatened members of the leasing staff, Overlook sent Ms. Hunter a notice to vacate the property on February 28, 2017 (Notice to Vacate). The Notice to Vacate stated Hunter had 14 days to vacate the property. Two days later, Overlook filed a complaint for breach of lease against Ms. Hunter in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City. After the District Court ruled in favor of Overlook and found Ms. Hunter had breached the terms of her lease, Ms. Hunter appealed.
On appeal, the circuit court affirmed the ruling of the district court. In addition to holding that Ms. Hunter had breached her lease, the court held that RP §8-402.1(a)(1)(i)(2)(B) does not require a landlord to wait for the 14-day notice period for a notice to vacate to expire before filing an action for breach of lease. The court also held that even if the Notice to Vacate itself did not specify why Ms. Hunter needed to vacate, the complaint filed by Overlook sufficiently explained the reasons.
The Court of Appeals granted Ms. Hunter’s petition for a writ of certiorari to hear the case, bypassing the Court of Special Appeals.
Shortly thereafter, Overlook realized that Ms. Hunter’s position was correct. In an apparent effort to dismiss the case, Overlook filed a Motion to Dismiss the appeal as moot. Overlook conceded in its motion that it had filed its complaint prematurely and that the Notice to Vacate failed to satisfy the requirements of Ms. Hunter’s lease. Overlook also stated it “agreed to a reversal of the judgment of the Circuit Court,” Ms. Hunter’s sole requested relief. Because it was agreeing to a reversal of the circuit court decision, Overlook contended that any collateral consequences to Ms. Hunter would be avoided. For these reasons, Overlook argued the case was moot. Ms. Hunter did not join in the Motion to Dismiss.
However, as the Court of Appeals explained in denying the Motion to Dismiss, Overlook’s argument was flawed. Despite the fact that both parties were in agreement that the judgment of the circuit court should be reversed, in order to accomplish that objective the Court had to reach the merits of Ms. Hunter’s appeal and enter an order reversing the lower decision. Had the Court dismissed the case as moot, the circuit court’s incorrect judgment would have been permitted to stand and Ms. Hunter might in fact “suffer collateral consequences” as a result. Further, the Court would be deprived of the opportunity to “correct the erroneous interpretations” of RP §8-402.1 by the district and circuit courts.
The Court instead proceeded to the merits of Ms. Hunter’s appeal, holding that Overlook should not have filed the lawsuit before the 14-day period set forth in RP §8-402.1(a)(1)(i)(2)(B) and the Notice to Vacate expired. The Court noted that RP §8-402.1(a)(1) lists the statutory prerequisites to filing a complaint for breach of lease for breach of covenants other than the payment of rent; the final prerequisite states, “[t]he tenant or person in actual possession of the premises refuses to comply[.]” The Court reasoned that if a landlord were permitted to file a complaint before the notice period expired, the tenant’s possession of the premises and the final statutory prerequisite would be “immaterial.” Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the circuit court and remanded to that court for reversal of the judgment of the district court.
Although Overlook’s Motion to Dismiss may have been well intended, as the respondent, Overlook was not in a position to dismiss the appeal on the ground that its case was weak; the appeal was brought by Ms. Hunter, as the petitioner, and sought relief for her benefit that could only be obtained through the action of the Court of Appeals.
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