Tips for Renters

Landlord-tenant law is a significant portion of our firm’s practice. We represent landlords and tenants across Michigan.

Renting is often an affordable and convenient way to find housing. However, Michigan law has a litany of rights and obligations for both tenants and landlords. Notably, there are several unique requirements for this area of the law (i.e., among others, the Summary Proceedings Act, MCL 600.5701 et. seq., The Landlord-Tenant Act, MCL 554.601 et. seq., and the Truth in Renting Act, MCL 554.631 et. seq.), and the local district courts often have a very busy landlord-tenant docket.

Tenants should approach a new lease with realistic expectations. A good landlord-tenant relationship often requires a significant amount of cooperation and patience for all involved. Tenants do not own the place; it is a more “limited” property right to use and enjoy the property, among other things. However, it is not a full conveyance, and remember, what a tenant does to the property may have significant ramifications.

Further, I would recommend the following:

Before and when you first move in:

Before you move in to your new rental unit, make sure you follow a few basic steps:

  1. Carefully review your lease and make sure you get a written copy of the lease. Your written lease will be a key issue if there is ever an eviction proceeding or litigation involving the lease.
  2. Make sure you understand the length of the lease, rent payments, pay close attention to late fees or other penalties, etc. Do you really need a year-lease or do you plan to move somewhere else in a six months? Is a month-to-month lease available?
  3. Get written copies of your lease and all documents from your landlord. Keep them in a safe place.
  4. Note where and how your landlord intends to be keep your security deposit.
  5. Get a checklist from your landlord.
  6. Pay close attention to the checklist and make sure everything is in working order prior to resubmitting it you landlord.
  7. Take a few pictures; especially if there are non-working appliances, issues the carpet, or other obvious issues with the rental space. With smart-phones, it is very convenient now to take and keep pictures of the rental space when you move in.
  8. If things are not in working order, notify your landlord, preferably in writing. Your landlord is entitled to “reasonable notice” and fixing issues may take a few days or longer depending on company and the issue.
  9. Rent from reputable rental companies and individuals you trust.
  10. Only have roommates that you trust.
  11. Don’t sign any lease unless you are absolutely committed to living there and make sure the terms are affordable. Leases, especially fixed-term leases, may hard to get released from if “life events” occur (divorces, unemployment, etc.). A month-to-month lease may be a better option if you anticipate some life-altering events happening over the next year (new job, transfer, different school, etc.) as opposed to a fixed term lease.

During your lease:

  1. Document any concerns you have about your rental in letters sent to the rental management company.
  2. Use letters when you have a maintenance issue as well as phone calls. Be polite but explain the issue in sufficient detail.
  3. Keep copies of any maintenance requests or receipts with your lease and other documents.
  4. If you intend to fix, alter, or do anything to the interior or exterior, make sure provide notice to your landlord in writing and have their permission to do so.
  5. If you wish to sublease, and if it is permissible to do so under the terms of your lease, make sure you get your landlord’s permission to do so. Preferably, have your sub-leaser just take over the lease completely.
  6. If you have a serious maintenance issues, notify your landlord immediately. If they fail to respond, again, make sure you document their response in a written letter to your landlord prior to any self-help efforts to fix the matter.

When you move out:

  1. Provide proper notice to your landlord, as required, prior to your new move date. For a month to month lease, a 30-day notice is typically required. Your lease provides more information.
  2. Carefully review your closing checklist and thoroughly inspect your rental unit.
  3. If possible, take pictures of the interior, including appliances, etc.
  4. Put your new address in the form of a letter, mailed to your rental management company, ideally when you move out but no later than a few days afterward. Ask that your security deposit or any other correspondences be sent there.
  5. If there are any issues after you move, document them and respond in writing. Phone calls alone are not enough; Michigan law requires written notice for many things.

Additional Resources

If you end up in litigation with your landlord, legal assistance may be available regardless of your income level.

Legal clinics like the Michigan State University College of Law, Rental Housing Clinic, have excellent resources available online and may provide tenants or landlords with legal services if eligible.

There are also Legal Aid services available state-wide depending on income and screening eligibility.

Some courts may even provide free or low-cost legal services for tenants. However, please note this varies significantly depending on the county and local district court, so always call the your district court and check; do not assume these services will always be available.

Lastly, there are referral services including: The Michigan State Bar Lawyer Referral Information Service (800) 968-0738, among others. These referral services may provide a list of local attorneys who may be able to provide further assistance.

This is not an exhaustive list.

Both landlords and tenants have rights and responsibilities. Landlord-tenant agreements are an affordable and viable way to obtain housing. However, the parties must always remember that these leases carry significant legal obligations and require a certain amount of patience and cooperation by both the tenant and the landlord.

Our office frequently handles this types of matters. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For more information on Notices to quit/terminate tenancy, a key form required to be provided to a vast majority of tenants prior to commencing eviction proceedings, click here.
For more information on Michigan’s Summary Proceeding Act, click here.
For information on the differences between month-to-month versus fixed term leases, please click here.