Tenants represented by Andy Freeman, Anisha Queen, and Jamie Strawbridge won a Supreme Court of Maryland victory prohibiting landlords from charging excessive late fees.

A lawsuit on behalf of former Baltimore-area tenants against apartment management company Westminster Management established important protections against excessive late fees. The five tenants in this case are represented by BGL lawyers Andrew Freeman, Anisha Queen, and Jamie Strawbridge, along with co-counsel C. Matthew Hill of the Public Justice Center and Chelsea Ortega and Jane Santoni of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC.

The management company, co-owned by Jared Kushner, broke a state law that caps penalties for the late payment of rent at 5% of the monthly amount. In addition to the 5% late fee, Westminster was charging tenants “agent fees,” “summons fees,” and “court fees” that had not been awarded by any court.

Additionally, Westminster designated those fees as “rent” in order to misapply tenants’ payments first to the illegal fees and non-rent charges, so it could claim that rent was still due and obtain a faster eviction. Chief Justice Matthew J. Fader wrote for the court that rent means “the fixed, periodic payments a tenant is obligated to pay for use or occupancy of the leased premise” and rejected an argument from Westminster that the term “encompasses whatever a written lease says it encompasses.”

The Supreme Court ruled that Westminster could not charge any additional fees after the 5% late fee, and that it could not define “rent” as all charges due in order to allocate monthly payments to other charges and claim that tenants are behind on their rent.

Read the press release here.

Read the decision here.

Read more about the case here and here.


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