Landlord-Tenant Law

2 Crocker Blvd. Suite 301 • Mount Clemens, MI  48043 • (586) 465-9529 • Fax 465-9577 • steve@sowell-law.com

Residential leasing in Michigan is governed by the Landlord Tenant Relationships Act and the Truth In Renting Act, as well as other miscellaneous statutes and common (case) law.  Among other things, these laws mandate that a landlord give the tenant certain disclosures in the lease, comply with certain deadlines, and limit the size of the security deposit a landlord can demand.  Failure to comply with the laws can in some instances subject a landlord to a tenant's actual damages, double damages, and costs and attorney fees.

For property built before 1978, a landlord must also comply with the federal Lead Based Paint Disclosure rules.  This requires certain disclosures be made to tenants.

Eviction in Michigan is governed by the Summary Proceedings Chapter of the Revised Judicature Act.  Forms for eviction proceedings can be found at the State Court Administrator's web site. Note:  the state frequently changes the URLs for these cites; sorry if the link does not work.  Contact me and I will both point you to the right site and redirect these links.

Landlords cannot use "self-help" to evict a tenant; the landlord must evict the tenant in a summary proceeding (lawsuit).  Using self-help to evict a tenant violates Michigan's Anti-Lockout Statute and can subject the landlord to three times the tenant's actual damages.  The tenant can also sue to regain possession of the premises.

Steve Sowell is frequently asked what charges can be deducted from a security deposit.  While a comprehensive list is impossible to compile, the following are some fairly reliable guidelines I have developed over the years.

  • Cleaning - The Michigan Landlord Tenant Relationships Act allows a landlord to make deductions from a security deposit for “damages” caused by the tenant.  A dirty apartment IS NOT a damaged apartment.  A landlord cannot deduct any charges for cleaning an apartment from the security deposit, even if the landlord has to use rakes and shovels to remove the filth.  If the landlord wishes to charge the tenant for cleaning, the landlord should charge the tenant a nonrefundable cleaning FEE (not deposit) prior to the tenant moving in.
  • Ordinary Wear and Tear - The following items are likely to be considered ordinary wear and tear by a court and thus not generally deductible from a security deposit: 
    • Sun-faded curtains
    • Water-stained or slightly nicked linoleum or formica
    • Minor marks or nicks in the walls (including a reasonable number of nail holes)
    • Moderate dirt or spotting on the carpet or thin spots in high traffic areas
    • Faded/peeling paint
    • Warped doors/cabinets
    • Rust stains on old porcelain fixtures
    • One or two broken slats on mini-blinds
  • Damage/Excessive Wear - The following items  are usually not ordinary wear and tear and are generally deductible from a security deposit.
    • Cigarette burns in curtains or carpet
    • broken ceramic tiles
    • Holes in the wall requiring more than spackle to repair
    • Doors off the hinges/broken drawers
    • Rips in the carpet
    • Urine stains from pets
    • Broken refrigerator shelf
    • Missing mini-blinds
    • Cracked or missing fixtures
    • Inoperable appliances
    • Missing knobs/door sets
    • Broken windows

Bear in mind that the length of time the tenant has been your tenant will affect the determination of whether an item is considered damage or ordinary wear and tear.  A tenant that has been in residence for 10 years will be given significantly more leeway by a court than a tenant who moved out after only six months.

Finally, bear in mind that it is the landlord’s burden to convince the court that the tenant is liable.  The landlord should always use commencement and termination checklists, should keep detailed repair records, and should document damage with photographs whenever possible. With proper documentation, a landlord will be granted a judgment for damages over and above normal wear and tear.

Steve Sowell & Associates PLLC can assist you with your commercial and residential leasing transactions, from start to finish, whether your property is commercial or residential, whether you are leasing multiple units in a large apartment complex or a single family home.

Steve Sowell & Associates PLLC has a "landlord's package" of forms for renting residential property, including a rental application, lease, option to purchase, commencement and termination inventory checklists, notice of itemized damages, and security deposit settlement agreement, available for a flat fee in both printed format and in electronic format (Microsoft® Word) so that a landlord can customize the documents.  A copy of the rental application is available for download in pdf format.

Steve Sowell & Associates PLLC has handled hundreds of eviction cases, both for nonpayment of rent and for breach of lease, including contested jury trials.  He is also familiar with the laws regarding evicting occupants of subsidized housing.  He can assist you in training your staff to recognize and avoid common complaints under the Fair Housing Act and discrimination claims under the federal and Michigan Civil Rights Acts. 

© Steve Sowell 2017