Category Archives: Real Estate

Squatting Update

Andrew Jameson, Photographer, Creative Commons License

Squatters Update

While there are important protections for tenants, not all alleged tenants have the same rights. Michigan’s Legislature, in an effort to crack down on alleged “squatters,” passed a series of laws that made “squatting” illegal and removed certain protections which “squatters” had previously enjoyed. For a summary of the legislation, click here.

First, though, it is important to define the term “squatter.” The term “squatter” only refers to individuals who use “forcible entry,” take “possession by force” or who take possession “by trespass without color of title or other possessory interests.” See MCL 600.2918 (5).
This is a narrow definition. If a tenant stays after their lease expires, for example, they are not “squatters.” People in these situations had legal rights to the property. The term “squatter” is narrowly applied and usually used to describe individuals who break into houses or apartments and try to take possession by force.
Among other reforms, the legislature gave landlords protections to recover their property. “Squatters” cannot sue for damages for forcible entry, MCL 600.2918 (5). Under MCL 600.5711, landlords can use forceful entry to enter the property, as long as their efforts do not include assaultive behavior (or worse, i.e., violations of Michigan’s penal-code MCL 750.81-750.90h.).
The Legislature also made “squatting” illegal and possibly grounds for either a misdemeanor (for first-time alleged offenders, see MCL 750.553); or a felony charge punishable up to two years in prison for alleged repeat-offenders. Id.

These reforms were substantial. Previously, “squatters” had significant protections. These new changes have made it easier for landlords evict squatters and take their property back. Further, the fact it can be a criminal charge now should be a significant deterrent. However, squatting remains and will remain a significant potential issue in the future, especially with the large stock of properties that are still being sold off after the real-estate market crash.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.

For information on the new ways to deliver notices to quit/termination of tenancy notices, click here.

For information on the differences between month-to-month versus fixed term leases, please click here.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.

Michigan Landlord-Tenant Law: New change will allow for Demands for Possession/Notices to Quit to be served By E-Mail or Social Media

When Landlords seek to evict residential tenants, they must first provide notice through a Demand for Possession/Notice to Quit. These notices serve, essentially, as a warning that if a tenant does not move out after the specified period, the landlord has the option to file a summons and complaint with the local district court to seek their eviction. The amount of time varies depending upon the potential reason listed by a landlord. This notice period provides the parties a chance to resolve the dispute. Further, it provides a tenant with a reason or reasons why their landlord is seeking to evict them. Courts, in a majority of landlord-tenant disputes, require these notices to be attached to any summons and complaint asking for an eviction. New changes to the laws will permit more options for landlords to deliver these notices.

Under the old law, pursuant to MCL 600.5718, this notice must be served “by delivering it personally to the person in possession, or by delivering it on the premises to a member of his family or household or an employee, of suitable age and discretion, with a request that it be delivered to the person in possession, or by sending it by first-class mail addressed to the person in possession.

On Thursday, May 21, 2015, Governor Snyder signed a bill that will amend this law. It will permit landlords and tenants, with mutual consent, to have these notices served electronically. However, landlords are not permitted to discriminate and withhold leases from people who refuse to agree to electronic service of these documents. Id. For additional information, here are the bill summaries from the House and Senate.

It is about time for these types of changes. In my opinion, the Legislature should look for more opportunities to permit parties to use electronic service, especially in situations where the time-tables are accelerated, as they are under the Summary Proceedings Act.

If someone has an active and frequently used e-mail account, it is, in my opinion, a much more reliable and better option for service than mail. Further, this option will save landlords money on additional service costs, save tenants the hassle of possibly being confronted and personally served, and reduce some of the potential confusion over whether these notices were served. Notices to quit/demands for possession are very important documents for eviction proceedings. If they are not served properly or completed correctly, courts may throw out an eviction complaint. This option, if utilized correctly, will benefit both landlords and tenants since they will both have adequate notice and it will eliminate sources of potential confusion over service.

Our firm has a lot of experience representing landlords and tenants all over Michigan. Feel free to call us at (517) 507-5077 for a free initial consultation and ask for either Jacob or Andrew.

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.

Disclaimer: This blog-post is only general legal advice. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances vary significantly depending on the alleged facts.


Michigan Property Law: Nuisance



“Good fences,” to quote Robert Frost, “make good neighbours.”

Unfortunately, for property owners, a good fence might not be enough. Actions by their neighbors may impact their quality of life and their “bundle” of property rights, including the right to use and the right to enjoy their property. Further, actions by individual property owners may be detrimental to an entire community. There may be, however, legal remedies available to assist both private individuals and groups of people with these issues.

A nuisance, broadly stated, is something that interferes with either the use or enjoyment of property. Nuisance tort-law is certainly not a new concept. These types of legal concerns have been adjudicated for centuries in various forms.  There are numerous categories and sub-categories for this term. Generally speaking, all nuisances start with a key division between actions that are classified as either private nuisances or public nuisances.

A private nuisance is a civil wrong that occurs when one person uses their property in a way that interferes with the use or enjoyment of another person’s property. Examples of private nuisances include: pollution of soil; streams; or underground water supplies, any interference with comfort such as foul odors, noxious gas, smoke, loud noises, excessive lighting, and more. Robert Frost, for example, in his poem Mending Wall, describes some additional scenarios which could be classified legally as private nuisances.

While a private nuisance is aimed at use and enjoyment of an individual or small group’s personal property, a public nuisance concerns an interest shared by the public as a whole, and is considered a minor crime. While the interest of deterring a private nuisance is to increase the use and enjoyment of land, the interest of deterring a public nuisance is to maintain the safety, comfort, and convenience of a community. Examples of public nuisances under Michigan law include, firing fireworks in a street, obstructing a roadway, polluting a waterway, harboring a dangerous animal, and more. As stated previously, public nuisances are a crime, and are dealt with in criminal court.

In Michigan, nuisances can be broken down even further into four additional categories: nuisance per-se, nuisance in fact, intentional nuisance, and negligent nuisance. A nuisance per-se, broadly stated, is an act, occupation, or structure that is at all times and under any circumstances considered hurtful to the health, tranquility, or morals of the community, regardless of location or surroundings.

A nuisance in fact, broadly stated, is an act, occupation, or structure that is considered becomes a nuisance because of its relation to certain circumstances or surroundings. Thus, a nuisance in fact can be caused by either the location of the premises, or the type of business being conducted on the premises.

An intentional nuisance is simply a nuisance caused by the intentional act to cause such nuisance, where a negligent nuisance is when there is an unreasonable risk of injury to others because of the failure to act by the person charged with causing a nuisance.


MCL 600.2940 is Michigan’s private nuisance statute, and awards damages to a party that can prevail on a nuisance claim.

MCL 600.3801 is Michigan’s public nuisance statute, and it bans the use of property for activities that are harmful to a community, such as, prostitution, gambling, illicit transfer of intoxicants, animal fighting, and human trafficking.

Other types of Michigan public nuisance statutes are: MCL 41.411 (for township and village public services), MCL 46.201 (concerning county parking lots), MCL 252.202 (concerning the use of junkyards), MCL 259.441 (concerning airports), MCL 280.423 (concerning sewage), MCL 286.218 (concerning pests and plant disease), MCL 286.473 (concerning farms), MCL 324.11520 (concerning the environmental protection act), MCL 324.3109 (concerning water resources), and MCL 287.277 (concerning dogs). This is not an exhaustive list, but it provides an idea of the type of public nuisances that exist.


In order to be liable for damage caused by a nuisance, the defendant must have 1) created the nuisance, 2) owned or controlled the property from which the nuisance arose, OR (3) employed another to do work that he or she knew was likely to create a nuisance. Gelman Sciences v. Dow Chem Co., 202 Mich. App. 250 (Mich. 1993).

Other elements may exist, and depend on what type of nuisance is claimed, who the parties are, and a variety of other factors. Finally, the statute of limitations to bring a claim is three-years, and is controlled by MCL 600.5805 (10). If you are dealing with the abatement of a public nuisance, however, this timeline is more complicated and may vary. MCL 600.3815.


A plaintiff can recover money damages if s/he has suffered actual damages from the nuisance. Injunctive relief may also be appropriate in situations where money damages are inappropriate or inadequate. For example, if a nuisance is on-going, injunctive relief may be appropriate to stop the nuisance.


Nuisances come in many different shapes and sizes. For example, if a neighbor puts up a large building that blocks all of the sunlight from getting to your property, you may have a private nuisance claim against that neighbor. Similarly, if your neighbor is continuously working with loud power tools that are so loud that they interfere with the use and enjoyment of your property, you may have a private nuisance claim. These are only some possible examples of a private nuisance claim.

A public nuisance may exist if a stream in your community is being polluted by a business. In that case you, and the rest of the members of the community, may have a public nuisance claim against the polluting business. Another possible public nuisance claim would be if a business is opened that deals in the type of unlawful activities noted above, such as gambling or prostitution. If this happens, you, as well as the rest of your community members, may have a public nuisance claim against that establishment.

Nuisance law can be very complicated, depending on the situation at hand, and should not be taken lightly. If you think you might have a nuisance claim, or are the defendant in a nuisance action, I highly you recommend that you seek an attorney.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For information on Deeds under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on real-estate litigation, notably lawsuits involving homeowners and builders, click here.

The attorneys at Crowley, Cornish, Rockafellow and Sartz, PLLC would like to thank the contributions of Dan Barnett, second-year law student at Michigan State University College of Law, and legal assistant for Crowley, Cornish, Rockafellow & Sartz, PLLC for his contributions as co-author of this blog post.

Tips for Homeowners considering remodeling projects….

Homeowners, for a litany of potential reasons, may need to remodel or 38286807_7bcf7bb83c_zreconstruct portions of their home. Unfortunately, things do not always turn out well and litigation may ultimately be necessary.

However, prior to starting any remodeling projects, there are a few basic questions and things a homeowner can do to help avoid some significant issues in the future. This is not an exhaustive list, by any means. These are just some general observations based on my years of litigating these types of cases. These projects are often much more legally complicated than they appear.

    • First, if you have a project in mind, check your local rules.
      • Your local ordinances and building codes, for example, should be available online or at the city/town hall. If you want a bigger garage, for example, you may need a variance or approval for any sort of expansion from local authorities. Zoning may be an issue as well. Building codes vary significantly depending on where you live. Some cities, for example, are very restrictive. You may need to pull permits and get approval from multiple levels of the government, all the way up to the Feds, depending on where your property is located.
      • You may be restricted by privately negotiated rules as part of a subdivision or local association. These restrictions will often be considerably tougher than local building codes and you risk litigation if you do not comply with them.
      • Certain projects just cannot be built, legally, or may be far too expensive to get all the necessary permits and approvals, especially for people living near environmentally sensitive areas.
    • What’s your budget?
      • Will you need financing?
        • Rates and terms for home-equity lines are different than rates for purchases. Equity lines may add a significant additional monthly payment so factor that in as well.
      • Plan on cost-overruns and try to under-budget these projects.
        • Things will happen which will probably drive up the costs. If everything works out, great; you have a surplus.
    • Check with your property insurer.
      • Remodeling or additions to a house or condo may impact your homeowner’s policy. Further, you will need to know whether damages may be covered under your policy.
    • Check your mortgage and note.
      • Depending on the type of project, you may need to consult with your lender or anyone else with a legal interest in the property. In the fine-print of a mortgage, there may be language which would require the lien-holder’s approval because significant remodels may impact their property interest.
        • A mechanics lien, for example, has important legal ramifications in terms of who has priority to the proceeds of the house if it is sold or foreclosed upon.
    • Are you planning on hiring anyone or doing it yourself?
      • I recommend properly insured and licensed professionals for a vast majority of the work, given the potential risks; however, the legal liabilities and responsibilities are very different depending on whom is doing the work.
      • There are less legal protections available and greater potential liability risks if a homeowner attempts to do the work on their own. However, for a highly skilled and resourceful homeowner who can navigate the permitting process, it may be a way to save money.
      • It may be legally easier for a homeowner to pull a building permit, for example; however, I urge caution if a contractor is asking the homeowner to do this in the homeowner’s name.
        • Some less reputable builders and contractors may hide behind owner-permits to complete jobs which legally, they would not be permitted to do otherwise.
    • What type of professionals will you potentially need?
      • While most general contractors will know what a project requires, different types of professionals charge different rates.
        • Disputes over pay and working conditions between a general contractor and sub-contractors may stall your project, cause significant cost-overruns, or cause other significant headaches.
      • If you do your research in advance, you can anticipate and estimate these costs and build it into your budget.
      • If you are interested in hiring someone, prior to meeting with them, make sure they are properly licensed prior to discussing any terms.
      • Are they insured or bonded? In a vast majority of professions, there is some type of insurance or bonding available for practitioners.
        • It is good to know this information. This will be a big issue if something goes wrong. It is usually acceptable to ask.


  • If you decide to hire someone and start the project, make sure you have a written contract and use written agreements.
  • Make sure all the parties sign the agreement.
  • Make sure all the parties carefully review the agreement.
  • Be aware of the fine print…all the language in that contract is in there for a reason.
  • If litigation is ultimately necessary, the written contract will be a key issue. The written contract is the first place the lawyers and court will look at when examining a dispute over terms.
  • If you have concerns, make sure you put those concerns in writing, send the other party a letter informing th7594030640_91d17e5b9b_zem of your concerns, ask them to fix the issues, and save a copy.
    • Do not just rely on texts or calls. Even an e-mail is better than just a phone-call since it creates documentation with a date and time-stamp that could be used later.
    • It is vitally important to document your concerns and make sure the other party has time to address your concerns, i.e., give the person you hired a chance to fix or address your concerns.
    • Put any amendments to the contract in writing. Oral amendments to a contract, for example, are much harder to enforce. If you agree to change something, make sure it is in writing and preferably signed or initialized by the parties.
  • Do not play games with payments and keep clear records of payments and receipts.
    • Make sure the parties are in agreement about how and when payments will be made.
    • You may be better off suing afterwards rather than breaching a contract by just stopping payments.
    • If litigation is ultimately necessary, it is often better to go into the litigation with “clean hands.”  A bounced or stopped check, for example, may have significant ramifications which are not readily apparent.
    • Book-keeping is a big issue if the matter ends up in litigation; especially if insurance payments are involved.
  • Be clear about deadlines and advise the other party of future issues in advance.
    • Communication issues over dates is a key dispute in many of cases if they end up in litigation.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
    • So many potential disputes may be resolved through simple and direct communication.
  • Give yourself an extra cushion of time for the work to be done. Delays may happen for a variety of reasons (weather, for example) beyond anybody’s control.

Even with all the best preparation, delays and cost-overruns should still be planned for. Ultimately, though, most people are reasonable and will be able to work through any issues they may have.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, we encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Our office frequently handles this types of matters. For a free initial consultation, please contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For information on Deeds under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on Nuisance claims under Michigan law, click here.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on real-estate litigation, notably lawsuits involving homeowners and builders, click here.


Residential Leases: Fixed Term v. Month-to-Month



With residential leases, finding the right kind of lease is a common issue for both landlords and tenants. Each type of lease has their own set of pros and cons. The right lease depends on a person’s particular circumstances and how they anticipate their circumstances will be for the duration of the proposed lease. In more practical terms and in a broader, more general sense, the key issue is the trade-off of cost versus flexibility. The following is a general list of some of the pros and cons of two of the more common residential lease options, depending on most markets:

Month-to-Month Leases:

  • More flexible, in general, for both the parties;
  • May be terminated by either party with a thirty days’ notice;
  • May cost more per month, depending on the landlord, than a fixed term lease;
  • Less potential long-term costs;
  • Less stability; either party, for a litany of potential reasons, could just provide the thirty-days’ notice and terminate the lease;
  • A better fit for people who are uncertain about their long-term plans, whether it’s due to a possible sale of the property, career changes, life changes, school, etc.;
  • A better fit for people who may need to move on short-notice;
  • A better fit if a tenant is concerned about the condition of the property;
  • A better fit for both parties if they have respective concerns, in general, about the other party;
  • Legally easier, usually, for a landlord to evict a tenant;
  • Availability varies depending on the market; certain markets are so saturated, landlords do not typically offer this option.

Fixed Term Leases:

  • more stable for both the parties; both parties should reasonably expect the tenancy will last the listed term on the lease;
  • usually require a thirty days’ notice to terminate near the end of the lease, but the termination provision for a fixed-term lease may be amended depending on the written provision for termination in the written lease;
  • generally speaking, landlords in most markets charge less rent per-month for a fixed-term versus a month-to-month;
  • a better fit for most tenants if they plan on staying in a particular area, long term;
  • a better fit for most tenants if they do not anticipate any need to move quickly for the duration of the lease;
  • in certain markets, especially college towns, this may be the only viable option for a vast majority of landlords given the saturation of tenants, the cycle of moving patterns, and relative scarcity of rental-housing;
  • legally more complicated and costly if the parties wish to terminate the tenancy and if the matter proceeds to an eviction proceeding through the courts;
  • tenants may find it necessary to sublease if they wish to leave early, if their landlord permits them to sublease; otherwise, they may be in breach of the lease and could risk a potentially significant amount of rent being owed;
  • may be more costly, in general, for a tenant if they did need to leave early;
  • Landlords usually have more leverage if a tenant wants to leave early;

Regardless of the type of lease, a residential lease should always be in writing and in compliance with the numerous provisions applicable to residential leases according to Michigan law.

If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer. This blog post is a general discussion about leases, only, and is not intended as specific legal advice. Circumstances vary significantly depending on the parties and areas.

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

For information on Deeds under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on Nuisance claims under Michigan law, click here.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on real-estate litigation, notably lawsuits involving homeowners and builders, click here.

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.

Tips for Renters

Andrew Jameson, Photographer, Creative Commons License

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.