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Is it a crime to fail to return a rental car?

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2023 | CRIMINAL LAW - Criminal Defense

When you don’t have a car of your own but still need a vehicle to get around, a car rental service would be useful. No matter the car rental service company you pick, there are multiple locations you can choose to borrow a vehicle from and return it after.

But how strict are car rental companies regarding unreturned vehicles? In Maryland, it’s illegal not to return a rental car, and anyone who violates the law can face punishment.

Failure to return is a crime

According to state law, anyone who leases or rents a motor vehicle while under contract to return the vehicle at the end of the borrowing period isn’t allowed to abandon or willingly refuse to send it back.

Those who violate the law face a misdemeanor charge. If convicted, they will have to serve jail time of up to a year and pay a maximum fine of $500. Although the jail time and fine may seem insignificant for some, the offense will still appear as a crime on record.

When is a driver charged?

There are several reasons why state officials could charge a driver for failing to return a rental car, apart from attempting to steal the vehicle. Perhaps they completely forgot about the rental deadline or that they’re only borrowing the car. Maybe the driver is from out of town, and they had last-minute changes to their travel plans, meaning they had to use the rental car for a bit longer.

A driver could also face rental car return failure charges if the rental service company wrongly accused them, such as in the case with Hertz. Drivers have claimed since 2019 that the company falsely alleged auto theft among them. There were also claims that Hertz would continue to accuse a driver of theft even after recovering the “stolen” car, which it would rent out to another driver. The new driver could then be arrested for using the “stolen” vehicle and face charges for a crime that never happened.

Facing charges head-on

If the state falsely accuses you of failing to return a rental car, you might want to consult a legal professional. Understanding your current circumstances before your court hearing is essential, and legal counsel can help build your case.