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Hunter v. Overlook

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 26, 2018

SHONTEL HUNTER
v.
BROADWAY OVERLOOK

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-17-003110

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          Greene, J.

         The present case provides us an opportunity to review the 14-day notice requirement contained in Real Property Article § 8-402.1(a)(1)(i) of the Maryland Code (1974, 2015 Repl. Vol.) ("Real Prop."). The issue before us stems from a breach of lease action filed by Respondent Broadway Overlook ("Landlord") against Petitioner Shontel Hunter ("Tenant") in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On February 28, 2017, Respondent-Landlord issued a "Notice to Vacate Property" to the Tenant. The notice provided:

This notice made the 28th day of February, 2017 is to notify the tenant Shontel Hunter that you have (14) days to vacate the property 129 N. Bond Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21231 Unit #129NB.
You have until March 15th 2017 to surrender the property back to the Landlord. This notice is in accordance, with the Breach of Lease filing requiring a 14 day notice to vacate the property.
Winn: Broadway Overlook

         (Emphasis in original). Two days later, on March 2, 2017, the Landlord filed a breach of lease complaint ("Complaint") against the Tenant in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City. The complaint alleged that "the tenant has threatened bodily harm to leasing staff in front of Baltimore City Police. The Tenant failed to maintain unit in accordance with lease." Under paragraph three of the Complaint, the Landlord checked the box for "14 days written notice" to complete the sentence: "The Landlord has given the Tenant [X] 14 days written notice (because the breach causes a clear and imminent danger of serious harm to others or the property of the landlord), that the Tenant is in violation of the lease, and that the Landlord desires to repossess the premises." The Landlord indicated that written notice was dated "Feb. 28th 2017" and attached a copy of the written notice to the Complaint.

         The District Court set the matter in for a trial on April 14, 2017. Prior to the admission of evidence, the Tenant moved to dismiss the action on the basis that the Landlord had filed its Complaint prematurely. The Tenant also argued that the "Notice to Vacate" did not specify why she needed to vacate, which, she argued, was a violation of section 23(E) of the lease. The District Court denied Ms. Hunter's motion. After receiving evidence, the District Court ruled in favor of the Landlord. The District Court determined that the Landlord had demonstrated a breach of lease with respect to an incident that occurred on January 23, 2017 between the Tenant and the Landlord's staff. The District Court further ruled that the Landlord gave adequate advance notice for the Tenant to vacate.

         The Tenant appealed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Sitting as an appellate court, the Circuit Court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The Circuit Court concluded that Real Prop. § 8-402.1(a)(1)(i)(2)(b) is "devoid of any language that would suggest a waiting period of 14 days is a condition precedent to filing a [breach of lease] complaint[.]" The Circuit Court reasoned that the statute requires a landlord to only provide notice to the tenant that he or she must vacate in 14 days, but does not require the landlord to "exhaust the 14 day period of notice before filing the action." The Circuit Court also held that because the Landlord's Complaint explained the grounds for the relief sought, there was sufficient evidence to affirm the District Court.

         On November 3, 2017, we granted certiorari to consider two questions:

1. "Did the [C]ircuit [C]ourt err in finding that Real Prop. ยง 8-402.1 allows the landlord to file a complaint for possession without having first exhausted the ...

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