Every so often, one of us is asked: How much time does a farm tenant have to leave the farm property once the lease is terminated or when the tenant is evicted for nonpayment? The confusion is a common issue and comes up in discussion of farm leases frequently.
Since there is a real difference between the two, I am going to clarify what Maryland law says about each of them and outline the procedure for both. Not only are these differences necessary for the tenant to be aware of but they are also imperative for the landowner to understand as well.
Termination of Farm Lease
In Maryland, agricultural leases require at least 6 months’ notice to terminate a year-to-year tenancy (MD Code, Real Prop. Section 8-402(b)(4)). Notice of termination of the lease can be given orally or in writing by the landlord to the tenant or by the tenant to the landlord, even with a written lease, unless the lease says it must be in writing (MD Code, Real Prop. Section 8-402(b)(3)-(4)). This means that once the notice of termination of the lease has been communicated appropriately, the tenant has at least 6 months to vacate the property.
For example, on May 1, Landowner Jay tells Tenant Annie that her lease is being terminated. Tenant Annie has 6 months to vacate the property from the date Landowner Jay gave her. Tenant Annie will be required to be off the property by approximately November 1, but no sooner, according to Maryland law.
Eviction of Farm Tenant for Nonpayment
Alternatively, in the case of eviction for nonpayment of rent, there is no requirement to give the tenant timely notice. Rather, when a tenant fails to pay the rent due, the landlord may file a written complaint under oath asking for repossession of the property, the amount of rent due, and court costs with the District Court in the county where the land is located. The court will then issue a summons and the sheriff will notify the tenant by first class mail to appear before the District Court in the county where the complaint was filed. The trial, according to Maryland law, will be held on the fifth day after the filing of the complaint and must answer the landlord's complaint to show cause why the demand of the landlord should not be granted.
For example, Tenant Annie has not paid rent for the farm property for the upcoming year and is now past due. Landowner Jay has repeatedly reminded her that payment is overdue and Tenant Annie has not responded. On the day of the hearing, Tenant Annie will have to “show cause” as to why she should not be evicted. What is actually considered to be “cause” would be factually determined by the Court. However, if Tenant Annie does not “show cause,” she will be evicted immediately and owe Landowner Jay for what he filed for in his initial complaint.
It is important to note that the tenant must be personally served to support any judgment for rent due. If requested, the sheriff must also personally serve the summons to the tenant, subtenant, or other person in actual possession of the property. If none of those persons can be found on the property, the sheriff may post a copy of the summons in a conspicuous place on the property. This method of service, however, is sufficient only for the landlord to get a default judgment against the tenant for possession of the property and court costs, not for the amount of rent due (MD Code, Real Prop. Section 8-401).
As you can see, if you are terminating a farm lease, you must give at least 6 months’ notice whether you are the tenant or the landowner. If you are evicting a tenant for nonpayment, as soon as the court finds the tenant has not shown cause, the tenant must vacate the premise. For more information and resources on farm leases visit https://extension.umd.edu/grainmarketing/lease-agreements