Summary Ejectment: Court of Appeals Limits Recoveries for Landlords
In the event of non-payment of rent or other material default, landlords are entitled to summary proceedings to obtain possession of the property. In addition, a request can be made for a monetary judgment for outstanding rent as of the date of the hearing, provided appropriate service of process has been made. When seeking money judgments in such proceedings, landlords routinely request attorneys' fees and other costs cast as "additional rent" when seeking possession of premises in the event of default.
On June 29, 2006, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals in Law Offices of Taiwo Agbaje, P.C. v. JLH Properties, II, LLC, issued an opinion holding that a landlord could not recover attorneys fees as additional rent in a summary ejectment action.
The Court relied on the decision of the Court of Appeals in Shum v. Gaudreau, 317 Md. 49 (1989), noting that "generally, contract damages could not be sought in an...ejectment proceeding." Opinion at p. 15. In summary ejectment "'rent' is not defined by statute, but is generally defined as "payment for the tenant's use, possession and enjoyment of land." Opinion at p. 13 citing Shum at p. 65. Applying this principle, the Court noted that attorneys' fees, while recoverable under a contract theory, were not recoverable in summary ejectment. Contract damages would be "such a complex factual inquiry" as to "frustrate the expedited design of the summary ejectment statue." Opinion at p. 16.
Contrarily, the Court did hold that the tenant was within its rights to raise and litigate an abatement of rent argument contractually provided for in the lease. "[W]here a lease provides for an abatement of rent, the tenant may assert the abatement provision in an ejectment proceeding instituted". Opinion at p. 25. The Court rationalized that the refusal to allow such a defense would create unnecessary litigation.