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Renter's Rights

EVICTION

Eviction is the legal process of removing a person from rental property. The landlord must use the court system in order to evict a tenant. It can not be done by force or threats of force.

A landlord can evict a tenant if:

  • A tenant fails to pay rent.
  • A tenant's use of the property causes a serious and continuing physical injury to the property, involves illegal activities or violates the terms of the rental agreement.
  • A tenant does not move out after the lease is terminated.

(The above does not include all reasons for eviction.)

A landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for the tenant exercising any legal rights against the landlord. (i.e. withholding rent to encourage the landlord to repair)

To evict a tenant, a landlord must file the following notarized documents with the Court that has jurisdiction over the rental premises:

  • Notice to Quit
  • Complaint
  • Summons

NOTICE TO QUIT

A Notice to Quit, the first step in the eviction process, is the written notice to a tenant stating the landlord's desire to evict.

A Notice to Quit will be used to terminate a tenant's rights under either a written or oral lease.

The reason for the Notice to Quit determines the number of days that a landlord must give notice to a tenant prior to taking action (filing a complaint and summons).

The minimum length of a Notice to Quit is 7 days for nonpayment of rent, a health hazard, or injury to premises. The minimum length of a Notice to Quit for Termination of lease is the number of days between payments, usually 30 days or monthly.
The time begins on the day the tenant receives the Notice to Quit (when the Notice is served on the tenant).

Respond promptly to a Notice to Quit by calling the landlord to discuss and settle the matter or obtain legal assistance.

COMPLAINT

After the required notice period, the landlord may file a complaint with the district court, whereupon the court shall deliver or mail to the tenant (defendant) a summons to appear before the court on a certain date.

SUMMONS

At the court hearing, if the tenant wins, the tenancy continues. If the tenant loses, the tenant has ten days to pay the past due rent, settle the dispute, or vacate the premises.

After ten days (or the date set by the court), if the tenant has not vacated, a writ of restitution is issued by the court commanding the sheriff or other authorized court officer to serve the process and restore the landlord (plaintiff) to full possession of the premises.

(NOTE) If you live in public or subsidized housing the landlord must have a very good reason for eviction.

ILLEGAL EVICTION

A landlord must always go to court to have a tenant evicted. A landlord also cannot harass or try to make a tenant move out by doing any of the following:

  • Using force or threatening to use force.
  • Removing, withholding, or destroying personal property of the tenant.
  • Changing, altering, or adding locks or security devices to the rental premises.
  • Boarding up the premises which prevents or makes entry difficult.
  • Removing doors, windows, or locks.
  • Causing the shut-off or interruption of water, electric or gas service.
  • Causing loud noises, a bad odor or other nuisance.
  • Putting the tenant's belongings out in the street.

If a tenant is forcibly removed from or kept out of rental property by force, the tenant may sue the landlord. If the tenant prevails, the tenant is entitled to recover three times the amount of damages or $200.00, whichever is greater. Damage to the tenant can include the cost of staying at a motel, as well as actual physical damage to the tenant or his belonging.

UTILITY ACCESS

Utility services are necessary to everyone's basic essential needs. Utilities include electricity, gas and water. Usually, tenant put the utility in their own name and are billed directly. However, some landlords choose to keep the utilities in their own name and charge the tenant the amount of the bill or pass the cost onto the tenant by including it in the rent.

If tenant utilities are shutoff:

  1. Contact the utility immediately.
  2. Determine the reason for the shutoff.
  3. Determine who is responsible for the shutoff - the landlord or utility company.

When the shutoff is caused by the landlord:

If the utility is in the landlord's name, the landlord cannot shutoff the service to harass or evict the tenant even when the tenant is behind in making rental payments. If the landlord deliberately causes the utility to be shutoff, there are three options:

  1. Ask the utility company to restore service in the tenant's name, or
  2. Ask the utility company to restore service in the landlord's name because the landlord illegally had the service turned off.
  3. Seek legal assistance to obtain a court order restoring the utility.

If the service is shutoff because the landlord has not paid the bill, the utility may be able to be turned on in the tenant's name.

When the shutoff is caused by tenant's failure to pay utility bills:

The utility company cannot force a tenant to pay the past due bill of a prior tenant or to pay a deposit if the tenant has a good credit rating with the company. (This applies only to residential gas and electric.) If either the amount of the bill or the reason for the shutoff is in dispute:

  1. Call the utility company to work out the dispute.
  2. If the dispute is not resolved, call the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) at 1-800-292-9555. The MPSC will determine if the utility followed the law in shutting off service. The MPSC can also answer other utility service questions.

Tenant difficulty paying utility bills

Eligible low-income consumers can receive help in paying their heating and electric bills through the State Emergency Relief Program. Call the Michigan Department of Social Services.

Also, Consumers Power has a winter protection plan that protects low-income customers and seniors age 65 and older from service shutoff December 1 through March 31. Call Consumers Power to determine eligibility.

Security Deposits

A security deposit shall not exceed 1-1/2 months rent. A security deposit can be used only for the following purposes:

  • To reimburse the landlord for actual damages (not cleaning expenses) not reasonably expected in the normal course of occupancy.
  • To pay the landlord for rent in arrearage, rent due for the premature termination of the rental agreement, and for utility bills not paid for by the tenant.

Within 4 days of moving, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing of his/her new address or forfeit notice of damages.

Notice of Damages

In the case of damages to the rental unit, the landlord must mail to the tenant within 30 days after the termination of occupancy, an itemized list of charges, including the cost of repair of each damaged item. The list must be accompanied by a check for the difference between the charges claimed and the amount of the security deposit. The notice must state that the tenant must respond to the notice by mail within seven days of receipt of the same or forfeit the amount claimed for damages.

Failure to send Notice of Damages

Failure by the landlord to comply with the notice of damages requirement within 30 days after the termination of occupancy is an agreement by the landlord that no damages are due and the landlord must immediately return to the tenant the full security deposit.

Suit to retain a disputed security deposit

If the landlord wants to keep part or all of a security deposit after the tenant has disputed charges claimed by the landlord, the landlord has 45 days after the termination of tenancy to bring suit against the tenant in order to keep the disputed money. The security deposit is considered the tenant's property until a landlord obtains a money judgment from the court for the disputed amount. The 45-day limit for the landlord to file suit to keep the security deposit will not apply where:

  • The landlord has filed with the court satisfactory proof of an inability to obtain service on the tenant.
  • The tenant has failed to provide his/her written forwarding address.
  • The tenant has failed to respond to the notice of damages within the seven-day limit.
  • The parties have agreed in writing to the disposition of the balance of the deposit claimed by the landlord.
  • The amount claimed by the landlord is deducted from the security deposit is equal to unpaid rent.

Failure of the landlord to sue within 45 days

Failure of the landlord to comply with the 45-day limit on an action to retain a security deposit constitutes a waiver of all claimed damages and makes the landlord liable to the tenant for double the amount of the security deposit retained.

Property Maintenance

Covenant of Fitness

Both landlords and tenants have maintenance responsibilities. Under Michigan law, a landlord is obligated to keep rental property in reasonable repair and to comply with the health and safety laws. Tenants are generally expected to assist the landlord in maintaining the premises in a safe and sanitary condition, to promptly notify the landlord of maintenance problems that require attention, and to leave the premises in good condition. These responsibilities may be modified, by mutual agreement of the landlord and tenant, if the lease has a current term of at least one year.

When maintenance problems arise

If a landlord is not maintaining rental property according to the local housing code or the rental agreement, the tenant should first discuss the matter with the landlord. If after this initial discussion it appears that the landlord may not cooperate to correct defects, the tenant should send a letter to the landlord. The problems discussed should be restated and the landlord should be advised that action would be taken if the problems were not resolved immediately.

Keep Good Records -- The tenant should keep a written list of the defects, the date they were first noticed and the date the landlord was notified. The tenant should write down what was said to the landlord about the defects, the times the landlord or repairmen came to inspect the problems or to work on them and when the work was started and completed.

Photographs should be taken of; all visible defects in the rental unit and the common areas of the building. The nature and location of the defect and that date on which the photo was taken should be written on the back of each photo.

If it becomes necessary to send letters to the landlord or anyone else regarding the problem, copies of the letter should be kept for the tenants records.

When the Landlord will not make repairs

Withholding Rent

Withholding rent can be an effective strategy when a landlord fails to maintain a rental unit. Before the rent is due, the rental money should be deposited in a separate savings account. The landlord must be notified in writing that this action has been taken, and the maintenance problems specifically identified. It should be stated that the money would be released when the problems have been corrected. The letter should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, and a copy should be kept for the tenant's records. The tenant must be prepared to prove in court that the landlord has not made the repairs.

Repair and deduct

A Tenant may make repairs and deduct the cost from the rent in instances where the landlord fails to make such repairs. In order to exercise this option, there must be:

  • A duty to repair provided by statue (M.C.L.A. 554,139; M.S.A. 26.1109).
  • Notice to the landlord that repairs are needed or actual knowledge on the part of the landlord that repairs are needed.
  • Reasonable lapse of time from the receipt of notice or actual knowledge by the landlord in order that the landlord could make the requested repairs.

If these conditions have been met, the tenant may obtain repair cost estimates from three companies. The landlord should be advised in writing of these estimates and advised that the tenant will pay for the repairs from the withheld rent or the next rental payment. The tenant should establish a date by which the landlord should have repairs completed and state that the tenant will resolve the problem if the landlord does not do so by that date. A copy of the letter should be kept for the tenant's records. The letter should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

This information is not a substitute for legal advice. If you need legal advice, see a lawyer.

If you fee you are being harassed, call a lawyer or your legal aid office.

Legal services of Northern Michigan can provide legal assistance to low-income persons in civil matters.

Click for free Michigan legal help and legal aid, or go to lsnmirp.org

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