Maryland Actions to Collect Back Rent Owed on Residential Leases Must Be Filed Within the General Three-Year Statute of Limitations.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland has determined that the statute of limitations governing an action for back rent is three years. This result is not altered for a residential lease signed under seal, where the limitation is typically twelve years, or by waiver language contained within the lease.
In Smith v. Wakefield, LP, decided February 27, 2019, Maryland’s highest court noted that, while residential leases have historically been signed under seal, Maryland’s General Assembly established, in 1715, a three-year period of limitations for back rent collection actions. That three-year limitation period had not been altered in over three centuries through statutory revisions and recodification to the Real Property Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland. Those revisions also eliminated the requirement of a seal for conveyance of real property or leases. Moreover, Maryland’s legislature exacted an anti-waiver provision for leases prohibiting tenant agreements to waive or forego any right or remedy otherwise provided by applicable law.
In sum, since 1715, all Maryland claims for back rent have been subject to a three-year statute of limitation and no legislative history suggested a change to that limitation period. Consequently, the three-year limitation period was not subject to waiver and the lease provision modifying the limitation period to twelve years was prohibited by law and unenforceable by the landlord.
Accordingly, landlords must be vigilant and initiate back rent actions within three years of the date any such action accrues.