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What’s in a Lease?


    Landlords and tenants do not have to have a written lease when property is rented. But if they do, there are things a lease must include and things it can’t include. A landlord and tenant can agree to almost anything in a lease that doesn’t violate federal, state, or local laws, rules, and regulations.

    This article lists things that can’t be and things that must be in every Michigan lease. The law that created these rules is called the Truth in Renting Act. This article does not include local laws. Check your local laws, called ordinances, for more rules about leases.

    Read the article Tenant Rights and Responsibilities to learn about being a tenant. Read the article Landlord Rights and Responsibilities (coming soon) to learn about being a landlord.

    Landlords Must Keep the Home Livable

    A landlord must keep a tenant’s home in good repair. A lease can’t undo a landlord’s duty to keep the home in good repair. This duty can only be lessened if a landlord and tenant agree to a written lease that lasts for a year or more.

    If there is a common area, it must be kept fit for its intended use.

    A Lease Can’t Violate Lockout Laws

    A lease can’t let a landlord force a tenant out of rented property or change the locks. The landlord must use the courts to evict the tenant. A landlord who tries to force a tenant out or changes the locks could have to pay the tenant money.

    To learn more about lockout laws and other illegal forms of eviction read the articles Illegal Evictions – What they Are and What to Do.

    A Lease Can’t Violate Security Deposit Rules

    A lease cannot break any rules about security deposits. A security deposit is money a tenant gives a landlord when moving in. It must be given back at the end of the lease unless the tenant damages the property or owes rent.

    To learn more about security deposits read the article Your Security Deposit: What it Is and How to Get it Back.

    A Lease Can’t Violate Civil Rights

    A lease can’t discriminate based on any of the following:

    • Religion

    • Race

    • Color

    • National origin

    • Age

    • Sex

    • Family or marital status

    • Disability

    Read the article Discrimination in Rental Housing to learn more about discrimination.

    A Lease Can’t Remove a Landlord’s Liability

    A lease can’t remove a landlord’s responsibility to obey the laws related to rental housing. For example, a lease can’t say a landlord doesn’t have to keep the home in livable condition.

    A lease can remove a landlord’s responsibility for damages from fires or other disasters for which a tenant has insurance.

    A Lease Can’t Make a Tenant Give Up Rights

    A lease can’t:

    • Remove or change a tenant’s right to a jury trial or any other procedural right

    • Take away any rights involved in removing a tenant from his or her home

    • Remove anyone’s duty to keep losses as small as possible

    • Make a tenant admit to causing damage that hasn’t happened yet

    • Force one person to pay for another’s legal fees

    • Force someone to give up their Power of Attorney

    A Lease Can’t Force a Tenant to Pay Rent Faster

    A lease can’t force a tenant to make rental payments for future months just because of a missed payment.

    A Lease Can’t Give a Landlord a Security Interest in a Tenant’s Personal Property

    A lease can’t let a landlord take a security interest in a tenant’s personal property to secure payment of rent or other charges. This means a landlord can’t take a tenant’s property because rent is late.

    For example, a lease can’t say, “If tenant doesn’t pay rent, landlord may take tenant’s car.”

    When Can the Lease Be Changed?

    The landlord and tenant can agree to change the lease anytime. The changes should be in writing and signed by both the landlord and the tenant.

    Without the tenant’s approval, a landlord can only change a lease when the changes are:

    • Required by law

    • To the property to protect health, safety, or peaceful environment or

    • To cover higher costs by the landlord for taxes, utilities, or insurance

    A landlord must give written notice 30 days before changing the lease.

    Landlords Can’t Violate the Consumer Protection Act

    The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) protects tenants from landlords who use unfair or deceptive practices. The Truth in Renting Act says landlords can’t put things in a lease if they violate the CPA. Things that violate the CPA include giving false or misleading information about the property or the home, and/ or taking away tenants’ rights without their consent.

    What Must Be in a Lease?

    Leases don’t have to be in writing. But if a lease is written, it must include the name and address where the landlord will notify the tenant of changes to the lease.

    The lease must tell tenants they must give the landlord a forwarding address in writing where they can be reached within four days after moving out. This must be in bold font. The font must be at least four points larger than the rest of the lease.

    What Happens if A Lease Breaks These Rules?

    A section of a lease that breaks these rules is void. This means the landlord can’t enforce it. If a tenant believes a lease breaks one of these rules, he or she can challenge it. To challenge a section of the lease, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing. The letter should say what part of the lease is illegal and why. The landlord then has 20 days notify all tenants signing the lease that the section is invalid.

    If a Lease Has an Illegal Section or is Missing a Required Section

    If a lease has an illegal section and the landlord does not change it within 20 days of getting written notice of it, tenants may:

    • Cancel the lease and end the rental

    • Stop the landlord from breaking the rules in future leases and force the landlord to send out a correction to all tenants who signed the lease

    • Sue the landlord for $250 or any actual costs from the bad lease, whichever is more

    A tenant must file a case in court to exercise any of these options. If a lease is missing a required section, a tenant has all these options. A tenant may also sue for $500 if a required section is missing.

    A tenant who sues may get $250 for each illegal section of the lease, or $500 for missing sections. Tenants under one lease can only get damages once. So if one section is missing and two sections are illegal, the landlord will only have to pay $1000: $500 for the missing section and $250 for each illegal section. This is true whether one person or six live in the home.