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Using Collection Agent or Court

Hi All,  My lease with my ex-tenants recently expired.  There was extensive damage to the property and the property was filthy. The tenants moved-out without making any attempt to clean or restore the property to the condition that they received it in at the inception of the lease.    I have spent $900 to have the whole house deep cleaned, $4,000 for painting and repairing the ceiling, removing nails from all walls, patching holes in walls caused by the nails, repair hole in ceiling caused from toilet leak, $80 trash removed, and $1,416 install new carpet.  I have offset these charges with the tenants' security deposit and sent them a Security Deposit Accounting Statement showing they owe in excess of $4,000 net of their deposit.  My tenants have not provided me their forwarding address.  I have communicated with them by e-mail.  I have informed them that I will send the billing and break-down of charges as well as their move-out checklist to their last known address; and that afterwards I would be sending the billing and supporting documentation to a collection agent or filing a claim in court.  My questions is: In the State of Maryland, can I legally use a collection agent to collect the debt or must I use the court system first to obtain a legal judgement before involving a collection agent?  Thanks for your response!  S Reed
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