Real Estate Law FAQs in Maryland

  1. Who retains equity on a home after it has been sold?

The property deed should include the homeowners’ names. This can make it easier to determine equity and any tax liabilities. A copy of that deed may be obtained from the Land Records Department.

If the homeowners are going through a divorce, the property will more than likely also be listed on the marital separation agreement. Any items that are listed on the separation agreement are usually viewed as marital property. A judge will also look to see if the home was acquired before or during the marital union.

  1. Can I sell my house without the consent of my spouse or partner who is also listed on the property deed?

The short answer is no. If both names are listed on the property deed, both parties will need to agree to the sale. Exceptions may apply if one partner is incarcerated or deceased.

Your realtor may require both parties to sign the broker listing agreement. Each person will also have to sign the property deed before the sale has been completed. This may take some time to accomplish, especially if the former partner or spouse lives in another state or you are no longer speaking to one another.

  1. What disclosures do home sellers in the state of Maryland need?

A Residential Property Disclosure and Disclaimer Statement should be filled out by sellers. Homeowners must disclose the following items to potential buyers:

  • If wood-destroying insects have been found in the home.
  • The current condition of the sewer and water systems.
  • If any hazardous materials are contained in the residence.
  • The condition of the home’s air conditioning and heating systems.
  • The current condition of the electrical and plumbing systems in the house.
  • The state of the home’s structural systems.
  • Any material defects that the seller knows about.

Supplying this information will allow the buyer to assume liability and risk for those and other problems that may arise after the house has been sold. You do not need to disclose details such as:

  • Whether anyone living in the home died due to suicide, a felony, accidental causes or natural causes.
  • If the home has ever been the scene of a crime.

You should answer truthfully if those questions are asked. However, you don’t have to volunteer that information, either.

  1. What is a stepped-up basis, and how does it relate to selling my home?

The stepped-up basis is a tax benefit that can be claimed by people who have inherited a house after the owner has passed away. It allows the value of that asset to be changed as needed. A stepped-up value is determined at the time of the prior owner’s death.

Property will not be taxed according to the cost basis from when the house was originally acquired by the decedent. The adjustment can only be used by the person who inherited the house. The deceased person’s family or estate cannot claim this benefit. If the heir or beneficiary opts to sell the home, the value at the date of death will be used when determining an asking price. The stepped-up basis could also save the seller money in terms of capital gains taxes, depending on any value appreciation or depreciation or any capital gains exclusions that may apply.

  1. How can I settle a property line dispute with my neighbor?

Residential property line disputes are rather common. People may have issues with a neighbor who has planted a tree that extends onto their land or builds a fence that encroaches on their property, for example. Fortunately, most of these concerns are fairly easy to resolve.

A land survey can be conducted to clearly identify property lines. The survey should be shared with both parties so that they clearly understand where they can place fences, gardens, trees and other items. If a fence that extends over to your land is not removed, you can go to your local circuit court to file an injunction that could order the fence’s removal.

It’s important to determine property lines as soon as possible. Otherwise, the doctrine of adverse possession could apply. If your neighbor has owned their property for at least 20 years, they could legally acquire title to your property under this doctrine. That possession would be adverse to your own ownership and is exclusive, open, notorious and actual.

Homeowners can cut down their neighbor’s plant or tree roots, vines and branches that hang over into their own property. However, those obstacles can only go back to the neighbor’s property line. People cannot trespass onto their neighbor’s land to cut those roots or branches without their permission, nor can they trespass onto someone else’s property to perform repairs on their own land without their neighbor’s consent.

Neighbors cannot be required to remove obstructions such as plant roots or tree branches that hang over or extend onto another person’s land. There are no state laws as of this writing that mandate homeowners to clean their neighbors’ gutters that become clogged with leaves from their trees.

  1. Can a buyer opt-out of a sale contract?

It depends on the language that’s included in the purchase agreement. A purchase agreement is a legally binding contract between a home seller and a home buyer. Certain conditions and clauses can be added by both parties to the document.

Certain home sales may be dependent on those clauses. For example, a sale may be contingent on a home inspection being conducted or the buyer’s ability to sell their current house. If those conditions are not met, one or both parties may be able to walk away from the deal without the threat of legal repercussions.

  1. Do I need a lawyer to buy or sell a house?

Technically, you don’t really need a lawyer if you’re selling or buying property. Most people work independently or with the assistance of a realtor in those transactions. Maryland is one of many states that don’t require an attorney for a home sale. However, there may be incidents where a real estate attorney may become involved.

If there are complicated purchase conditions or the home is being sold by an estate, a lawyer could be beneficial. An experienced attorney can help parties understand their rights and responsibilities. They can also ease tensions and explain complicated contract verbiage.

  1. Will I lose my home if I file for bankruptcy?

Fortunately, Maryland has homestead laws that let homeowners protect property that creditors cannot claim. The designated property is also referred to as a homestead. There aren’t any limits as to the number of acres that can be claimed. Instead, the state of Maryland lets people claim a dollar amount for the home’s total value.

Individual homeowners can claim a property value of up to $3,000. They can also claim another $2,500 if they are filing for a Title 11 action. This additional value can be in personal property, real property or value.

A property forfeiture may be required if you still owe money to contractors and other professionals for repairs or renovations that were made to the home. It could also be forfeited if the home had an existing lien against it before the homestead claim was made, or if any Maryland state taxes are past due. The homestead property can’t be claimed as mortgage credit, either.

  1. Can I rent out rooms in my home to others?

Homeowners can act as landlords. They are allowed to take in tenants in most instances. Before taking that first step, it’s a good idea to research rental agreement and lease laws.

Deposits cannot be more than two months. Interest on that deposit cannot be more than 4 percent simple interest for the year. A landlord must return a deposit to their renter within 45 days from the date of the contract termination. Renters cannot discriminate on the basis of marital status or sex if the property owner lives in a residence that has 5 or fewer units. Landlords can only rent to elderly clients if their home is specifically designed for people in the designated age bracket.

  1. Am I allowed to kick bad tenants out?

Some renters are wonderful. They adhere to their landlord’s rules, keep their rooms tidy, and never cause any problems. Unfortunately, for every good tenant, there are just as many bad tenants. There are renters who are messy, disregard rules and pay rent late or skip paying rent entirely. They may make life uncomfortable for the landlord and other renters. Landlords may find themselves wondering when and if they can force problem tenants to leave.

Probable cause must be present before a tenant can be evicted. A notice will need to be supplied to the tenant in question. This notice is also referred to as a Notice to Quit. Weekly tenants must receive this notice within 7 days. That time is extended to 30 days for monthly leases and 90 days for annual leases. This requirement does not apply to residents of Maryland’s Montgomery and Baltimore counties. In those counties, a 2 months notice to quit is mandatory for leases that are renewed monthly and are less than a year in length.

An eviction can occur anywhere from 5 to 15 days from when the notice paperwork was served to the tenant. Tenants can appeal within 4 days in cases of rent non-payment. They have 10 days to appeal if the problem is non-renewal, a holdover, or when certain rules established by the landlord have been broken.

A writ of restitution is provided if the court finds in the landlord’s favor. Tenants have 60 days to vacate the premises. However, they may be forced to move out before the 60 days are up.

These are just some of the many common real estate concerns that can arise. Real estate rules and laws can be confusing, but we can help. Contact us to set up a free consultation. We’ll listen to what you have to say and advise as to possible next steps. Our experienced professionals can help to make the situation clearer and much less stressful, allowing you to concentrate on what really matters.

Learn More About Real Estate Law