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Going to Court in an Eviction Case
If you can’t resolve the matter by doing what your landlord wants or by making an agreement with your landlord, your landlord might start an eviction case against you. If this happens, you may have to go to court. If you reach an agreement before a case is started, get it in writing and have it signed. Get your own copy of it to avoid any questions about the agreement later.
Starting the court case
Your landlord can start a court case to evict you by filing a complaint in the local district court. Your landlord can ask to just evict you (called possession) or to evict you and get money damages.
When it gets the complaint, the court will issue a summons. The summons tells you that:
You are being sued;
Your landlord wants money or to evict you, or both;
You must appear in court on a certain date and time for a hearing OR that you must file an answer in writing within five days;
You have the right to a lawyer, and if you can't afford one, that you may qualify for free legal aid;
You have the right to a jury trial, and you must request it in your first response and pay a jury demand fee;
You will have the chance to tell the court why you think you should not be evicted, and to show the court proof of your reasons, such as witnesses, receipts or any other relevant papers;
If you are not in court on time, you may be evicted without a trial and you may be ordered to pay money.
Most courts include a hearing date in the summons, but some do not. If not, you will have five days to file a written response (an answer) with the court to get a hearing date.
The complaint must state all of the following, if applicable:
Why you’re being evicted, both the legal name of the claim and the reasons for it
The rental period and rate, if your landlord wants rent money as well as eviction
Whether the landlord kept the premises fit for living in, and in reasonable repair
Whether your landlord is asking for a jury trial
Any other specific details about the eviction
These are included on the standard eviction forms available on the Michigan Courts One Court of Justice website.
There are different complaint forms a landlord should use for Nonpayment of Rent, Recovery of Possession, Health Hazard or Damage to Property, and Just Cause Eviction from a Mobile Home. Most landlords use these forms.
Getting the Summons & Complaint
Your landlord must have the summons and complaint served on you by mailing it to you. Your landlord must also have it served on you in one of the following ways:
By having it given to you personally
By delivering it at the rental property to someone in your household who is old enough
By securely attaching it to the main entrance of your dwelling after failed diligent attempts
Your landlord can’t be the one to serve you. A process server often serves paper, but it can be done by other people, too.
Your landlord has to prove to the court that you were properly served. This is done by filling out the proof of service at the bottom section of the first page of the summons form, and filing it with the court.
Your landlord must make sure you are served with the summons and complaint at least three days before you must go to court.
Responding to the Summons & Complaint
If you get a summons and complaint, it will probably have a date when you need to go to court. If so, you can go to court and verbally respond at the hearing or you can file a written answer with the court.
Some courts don’t include a court date in the summons. Instead, you are told you have five days to respond with a written answer or the court will automatically find you in default. They are called the 5-day District Courts. If your case is under the jurisdiction of any of the 5-day District Courts, you must file a written response with the court and mail a copy to your landlord within five days of getting the summons and complaint. If you do not do this, you will not get a court date and the court will issue a default judgment for possession. The 5-day District Courts are the following:
1st District: Monroe County
District 2A: Lenawee County
12th District: Jackson County
18th District: City of Westland
81st District: Alcona, Arenac, Iosce & Oscoda Counties
82nd District: Ogemaw County
District 95B: Dickinson & Iron Counties
Answering the Complaint
A complaint consists of a number of paragraphs. Each paragraph should be numbered.
To answer a complaint, you must respond to each paragraph, one at a time. You can use the Automated Online Answer to Eviction Complaint Forms interview to draft your answer, no matter what the reason for your eviction.
For each paragraph, you must say that:
You agree with the paragraph in the complaint;
You disagree with the paragraph in the complaint; OR
You don’t know whether paragraph is true.
Just follow these simple rules:
Do not agree with anything unless you know it is true.
Do not disagree with anything unless you know it is not true.
If you don’t know, choose “I Don’t Know.”
If a paragraph makes more than one claim, do not admit it unless you know all the claims are true.
You can use our the automated online answer to eviction form in the toolkit you are reading, or the Automated Online Answer to Eviction Complaint Forms interview to create your Answer.
If you want a jury trial, you must request it at the first hearing and be prepared to pay the fee for a jury trial then. It’s usually $50. If you get public assistance or can’t afford the jury fee, you can ask the court to suspend it by filing a Waiver/Suspension of Fees and Costs Form. You can use our Automated Online Waiver/Suspension of Fees & Costs Form to create your form.
Defenses & Counterclaims
There may be a good reason you should not be evicted, even if what your landlord said in the complaint is true. If so, you have a defense to the eviction. If you have a defense, you must state it in addition to your answer, and you must tell the court the specific facts of your defense.
If you have a legal claim against your landlord that is based on the same facts as the eviction, you have a counterclaim. You must also state the counterclaim in your answer. You can raise defenses and counterclaims using the Automated Online Answer to Eviction Complaint Forms interview.
Read the article Common Defenses and Counterclaims in Eviction Cases to learn more.
Getting Ready for Court
When you appear in court, the trial could happen that day so bring everything you need to prove your side of the story. If there’s a good reason to delay, the court may adjourn the trial, and set if for another date in the future. The court will not adjourn it for more than 56 days.
To prepare for the hearing, gather your evidence. Evidence is what you show a court to prove your case. It includes any documents or pictures that support it, as well as statements from other people who know firsthand about what happened.
The better your evidence is, the easier it will be to show the court and your landlord why you shouldn’t be evicted. Your evidence might include:
Copies of letters or emails you’ve sent to your landlord or housing department
Letters or emails you’ve gotten from your landlord or housing department
Pictures of needed repairs
Copies of bills and receipts for repair, or for other costs related to the problems such as temporary housing
Bank statements for any escrow accounts where you are keeping the rent that you are withholding because of a dispute with your landlord
Statements from people who know firsthand what happened must be made at the hearing by the same people. They can’t be submitted to the court in writing. Someone who knows firsthand about what happened could be a witness in your case.
If a witness is unwilling to appear, you can ask the clerk of the court to issue an order to appear (subpoena), requiring the witness to appear at the hearing or trial. The order to appear must be served on the witness (along with any witness fee) no later than two days before the hearing/trial. You will need to pay the clerk of the court to make arrangements for service of this order.
Appearing in Court
It’s important to remember that when people represent themselves in court, they are expected to follow the same rules an attorney does. Information about appearing in court is available in our Going to Court video.
When you arrive
The hearing will usually take place at the location stated in the summons. It is important to be there on time. Dress neatly. Arrive 10 or 15 minutes before your hearing is scheduled. It’s important to show up on time. Let the court know you’re there by telling the clerk or officer sitting by the judge’s bench, but do not interrupt the current proceeding. Be prepared to spend most of the morning or afternoon in court. Bring your witnesses and your evidence with you. Remember to speak clearly, answer any questions the judge asks, and don’t interrupt the judge or the other party.
In an eviction case, the landlord is the plaintiff, the person or entity bringing the suit in court. You, the tenant, are the defendant. You are defending against the landlord’s suit. Together, you and your landlord are called the parties of the case.
If the landlord is not in court when your case is called, the case may be dismissed. If you are not in court when your case is called, a default judgment may be entered against you. This means that if the judge decides your landlord has a good claim, the landlord can get a judgment without a hearing because you did not appear to challenge the complaint.
The Hearing Starts
The judge should tell you that you have the right to get an attorney. If you want one, that is a good reason to delay the trial. If either you or your landlord does not have an attorney but requests one, the judge will generally adjourn the trial or hearing for seven days. The right to get an attorney means either side can have one if she or he can afford it. It does not mean the court or anyone else will pay for your attorney.
If the trial is delayed for more than seven days after the first hearing, your landlord can ask the judge to order you to pay rent money into an escrow account. This money is to cover the rent you could owe for staying in the home until the trial. It can only be used for rent you could owe for staying in the home while you are waiting for trial, NOT for past rent you might owe.
In court, each side has a chance to tell the judge or jury its side of the case, and to show its evidence. It is very important to follow the rules and not interrupt the other side during its turn.
Your landlord, as the Plaintiff, will get to go first. Your landlord will get to show the court any documents or pictures to prove the case. Your landlord will get to call witnesses to testify. You, or your attorney, will also get to ask questions of your landlord’s witnesses. Your landlord has to prove what’s stated in the complaint to have you evicted.
After your landlord is done, you get to tell your side of the story. You get the same chance to show the court your evidence and call witnesses.
After each side gets a turn, the judge or the jury will decide what should happen – whether you have to move or not , if you owe any money and how much. That decision should be based on the law and who has the more believable evidence. It’s usually referred to as finding in favor of one party or the other. Sometimes there can be a mixed result, the court (the judge or jury) finds some things in favor of the plaintiff and some in favor of the defendant.
If one party wins with ease, that party can ask the court to order the other party to pay some of the case costs for it. The amount of costs is determined by the law.
Alternatives to Court
You and your landlord may work out an agreement or resolution yourselves anytime before you go to court. If you can’t work it out yourselves but don’t want to go to court, you might be able to go to mediation and work with a neutral third party to reach an agreement.
If you reach an agreement after the complaint has been filed, you can both sign a consent judgment, or agree to a dismissal of the case once one or both of you have done something to resolve the problem.
If you reach an agreement, contact the court to see if you still need to go to the hearing to tell the court about your agreement. If you don’t do this, you could end up with a default judgment against you, leading to eviction and an order to pay money.
To learn about what happens after there’s a judgment in the case, please read the article Eviction after Court is Over.