Landlords in Michigan can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Michigan.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 14, 2021
Renters in Michigan have rights to their rental property. These legal protections, called tenant rights, also apply when renters are facing eviction. This article explains Michigan’s landlord-tenant laws, including what rights tenants have in the state.
You may find this article helpful if your landlord is threatening eviction, if you’re behind on rent, or if your lease is about to expire.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process of removing a renter, also called a tenant, from a rental property. The eviction process usually begins when a landlord sends the tenant a written notice informing them that they have violated the lease. A landlord may not send a notice if the lease term has ended.
In Michigan, landlords generally need to get a judgment and order from the court before removing a tenant from a rental property. Removing a tenant without a court order is called self-help eviction, illegal eviction, or illegal lockout.
Who Can Be Evicted in Michigan?
To be evicted from a rental property, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship. This relationship requires that the landlord agrees to accept money (in the form of rent) in exchange for the tenant’s right to live in the rental property.
A landlord-tenant relationship is usually formed when the tenant and landlord sign a lease agreement detailing the terms of the tenancy. However, Michigan law allows landlord-tenant relationships to be formed through oral leases. An oral lease is a verbal agreement rather than one made in writing.
Although eviction cases usually involve those who have a lease, people living in the rental property who aren’t on the lease can also be evicted.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Michigan?
There are many reasons why a renter can be evicted in Michigan. Below are some common reasons:
The tenant has late or missing rent.
The tenant has violated a term of the lease agreement that’s related to rent.
The tenant has caused property damage or created a health hazard.
The tenant has engaged in illegal drug activity on the property.
The lease has expired, which means that it has ended and will not be renewed.
The tenant has stayed in the property after the lease has expired without permission.
The type of eviction notice that’s required depends on the reason for eviction. Once the notice period has ended and the eviction lawsuit has been filed, the eviction process generally moves forward in the same way.
In Michigan, there are two main types of notices: a demand for possession notice and a notice to quit. A demand for possession notice is used for nonpayment of rent, illegal drug activity, damage to the property, or creating a health hazard. A notice to quit is used when the tenant violates a lease agreement provision that allows for termination or when you’re a tenant at will. The type of notice the landlord needs to send depends on the type of eviction.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
In Michigan, a landlord can evict a tenant if they pay rent late, don’t pay enough, or fall behind and owe back rent. Rent is considered past due the day after the due date unless the lease agreement specifies a grace period. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how short a tenant is on rent unless the lease agreement states otherwise.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Landlords in Michigan can also evict a tenant after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired. When a landlord alleges that the lease has expired, they’re arguing that the term listed in the lease agreement has ended. When a landlord terminates a lease, they’re ending the lease before it expires.
In both cases, the landlord is alleging that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property, regardless of the tenant’s status on paying rent. When a lease expires, the landlord usually doesn’t need to send any notice before filing an eviction action. One exception is if the landlord has allowed the tenant to stay more than 30 days past the date of expiration.
When a landlord terminates a lease, they need to provide notice. The amount of notice they need to provide depends on the reason for termination. For example, if a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord needs to provide seven days' notice, but if the landlord discovers there is illegal drug activity in the property, they can file an eviction lawsuit after 24 hours' notice.
The Michigan Eviction Process
Below is an overview of the eviction process in Michigan.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To start the eviction process, a landlord usually needs to send the tenant the appropriate eviction notice.
Demand for Possession
If the landlord is evicting the tenant for a rent violation, illegal drug activity, property damage, creating a health hazard on the property, they need to send a notice called a demand for possession.
Notice to Quit
A notice to quit is often used when the lease has come to its natural end. However, it can also be used when the tenant is month-to-month, when there is no lease, or when the tenant violates a provision in the rental agreement that allows for termination.
Any notice must be in writing and contain at least the following information:
Date of the notice
The tenant’s name
A description of the rental property
The reason for eviction and, if applicable, the amount of rent owed
If applicable, the number of days the tenant has to remedy the reason for eviction
The landlord’s address
The landlord can serve the tenant with the notice. Service is the formal process of notifying the tenant. The landlord can serve the tenant by:
Giving the notice to the tenant in person.
Leaving the notice at their residence with a family member old enough and able to give it to the tenant.
Sending it via first-class mail.
Sending it via email.
The landlord can use email to serve the notice only if the tenant agreed to be served by email ahead of time. To use email, the tenant must agree to service by email in writing. Tenants must also give consent via email. To give consent, the landlord has to send the agreement to receive notices via email to the tenant. Then, the tenant has to respond to the email.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
In Michigan, the next step in the eviction process is to file an eviction lawsuit. To initiate the lawsuit, the landlord must file a complaint in the district court in the county where the property is located. In addition to the complaint, the landlord needs to include a copy of the lease agreement, the notice they sent the tenant, and proof of service showing the notice was given to the tenant.
Step1: The court issues a summons.
Once all necessary documents are received, the court will issue a summons. The summons is a notice that contains the tenant’s name, the reason for the lawsuit, the date and time of the initial hearing, the tenant’s right to a lawyer, and the right to a jury trial.
Step 2: The landlord notifies the tenant of the lawsuit through service.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the landlord has to serve the summons and complaint on the tenant at least three days before the court date.
The landlord can complete service of the lawsuit by:
Giving it directly to the tenant.
Giving it to a family member old enough and able to give it to the tenant.
Attaching it securely to the main entrance of the dwelling. The process server can only do this if they were unsuccessful in their attempts to serve the tenant using the above two options.
Sending it via email.
Just as with service of the eviction, the landlord can use email only if the tenant agreed in writing to be served by email, the landlord sent the agreement to the tenant’s email, and the tenant replied to that email.
Step 3: The tenant may need to respond to the summons in writing.
If the summons has a court date listed, the tenant has the option of either responding to the complaint with their defenses in writing (also called answering the complaint) or presenting their defenses at the hearing. It’s generally good practice to answer the complaint in writing.
If the summons doesn’t include a court date, the tenant must answer in writing. If this is the case, the tenant will have five days to file an answer to the summons and request a court date. The tenant will also need to send a copy of their answer to the landlord.
Tenants run the risk of losing their case by default judgment if an answer is required but they don’t file one. A default judgment is a judgment against a party for not attending a hearing to defend themselves. Tenants who aren’t sure whether they need to file a written response and request for a hearing should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
If the tenant would like a jury trial, they need to request it in their answer to the complaint and pay the jury demand fee.
Step 4: The landlord and tenant will attend the hearing and trial.
The next step is to attend the initial hearing. If the tenant doesn’t attend this hearing, the court will issue a default judgment in the landlord’s favor. If the judge awards a default judgment to the landlord, the landlord will be able to move forward with the eviction.
At the trial, the landlord will need to prove that the allegations in the complaint are true. To prove their case, they will present evidence and witnesses. The tenant can ask the landlord’s witnesses questions. Then, the tenant will have the same opportunity to present evidence and witnesses.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
Under Michigan law, you can present defenses, affirmative defenses, and counterclaims if you’re facing eviction. Defenses and counterclaims should be presented in the answer to the complaint and in the hearing. Regardless of what kind of arguments you present, be sure to bring any evidence and witnesses you have to the hearing and trial. Evidence may include records of payment, photographs, call records, text messages, etc.
If your district requires a written answer within five days of getting the summons and complaint, you need to mail one to your landlord as well.
A regular defense is when you deny the allegations in the complaint. For example, if the landlord files the eviction action alleging you didn’t pay rent, you might argue that you did pay rent.
An affirmative defense is when you admit to the allegations but provide a justification. For example, a landlord may accuse you of not paying rent. An affirmative defense would be that you agree that you didn’t pay the rent, but it was because you needed to make a repair that was necessary to be able to live in the home.
A counterclaim is an allegation against the landlord. Through a counterclaim, you’re arguing that the landlord violated the law, causing you damages. In Michigan, you can raise counterclaims in your answer.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
The judge or jury (if requested) may enter a judgment on the same day as the trial or at a later date. If the judge or jury rules in favor of the landlord, then the landlord will be able to proceed with the eviction. Or the judgment may state that the tenant can stay in the home if they do something by a certain date. If they owe money, the judgment will also list the amount they owe.
If the landlord proceeds with eviction, the tenant will usually get 10 days to move. If the tenant doesn’t move by the date listed in the judgment, the landlord will request an order of eviction from the court. The order of eviction, which is signed by the judge, will then be sent to the sheriff. After giving the tenant 24 hours’ notice of the order of eviction, law enforcement officers will remove them from the property. The process of physically removing the tenant from a property with an order of eviction is called execution. It’s often not needed since most tenants leave by the date ordered by the court.
Right To Appeal
You will have the right to appeal the judgment. If you want to file an appeal, you need to do it within 10 days of the date the judgment is issued. Any tenant considering an appeal should contact a landlord-tenant lawyer, as appeals are often very complicated.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Michigan
Gather evidence and witnesses.
Before the eviction hearing, gather any and all documents, photos, videos, and any other evidence supporting any defenses or counterclaims you want to make at the hearing and trial. If you plan to call a witness, communicate with them ahead of time to make sure they can make it to the hearing as well.
One of your arguments may be that the condition of the property was uninhabitable. If so, it’s a good idea to create a record by having a municipal building inspector visit the property. The inspector can create a report about the conditions of the property, which can then be provided to the court as evidence.
Request a continuance if necessary.
If it’s impossible for you to make it to the hearing, contact the court clerk and ask for a continuance (a new court date) or ask that the court be alerted that you won’t be attending. Court rules are very strict, and if you miss the hearing and don’t get a continuance, the court will likely issue a default judgment against you.
Keep detailed records.
Keep detailed records of everything you do or pay. If you resolve any violations of the rental agreement during the eviction process, be sure to keep a paper record of it so that you can show the court what you have done or paid.
And if you decide to do this, be careful about who you pay and when. For example, if you’d like to make rent payments after the eviction proceeds have concluded, be sure to understand whether the court wants you to pay the clerk of courts or the landlord directly.
Communicate with your landlord if you have a dispute regarding the rent or another provision in the rental agreement. Communicating early can prevent a lawsuit. If you reach out early, you may be able to negotiate an agreement. This is helpful because even the mere filing of a lawsuit can negatively impact your future housing opportunities and your rental history.
If your landlord has already filed an eviction against you, consider negotiating with the landlord or their attorney. You may be able to negotiate a settlement agreement where the landlord will drop the case if you agree to move out by a certain time.
Use community resources.
Community resources in Michigan, including nonprofits and legal aid organizations, can help you navigate the eviction process and defend yourself in a lawsuit. Browse the resources below for more information.
Keep agreements in writing.
Make sure that any agreement you make with your landlord is in writing and is signed by both you and the landlord.
Tenant Resources in Michigan
Michigan Legal Help: Michigan’s legal help website provides detailed legal information, forms, and general guidelines for renters facing eviction. This website currently has pages dedicated to providing information about the COVID-19 pandemic, including information about coronavirus protocols, the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program (CERA). It also provides guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and information about the CDC eviction moratorium.
National Housing Law Project's (NHLP) CDC Eviction Moratorium Page: NHLP's page provides updated information about the federal eviction moratorium order issued by the Biden Administration.
Michigan State Bar’s Legal Resource and Referral Center: The legal resources and referral center provides general legal information and attorney referrals.
Guide to Legal Help: Michigan’s guide to legal help can put you in touch with legal resources in your county. This includes Michigan legal aid providers, which are nonprofit law firms that provide legal services to low-income Michigan residents.
Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS): NLS is a legal aid organization serving the Detroit area.
Michigan.gov's MSHDA COVID-19 Page: The Michigan State Housing Development Authority's COVID-19 response page provides information about the CERA program, including how to obtain and use CERA funds.