Going to Court in an Eviction Case

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If you’ve gotten a notice to quit or demand for possession, read Eviction: What is it and How Does it Start?

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 filing the complaint, your landlord must attach a copy of the lease (if it’s written), the demand for possession or notice to quit, and the Proof of Service, to show it was given to you.

The Summons

When the court gets the complaint, it 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;

  • You have the right to a lawyer, and if you can't afford one, 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.

The Complaint

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 One Court of Justice website.

There are different complaint forms a landlord should use for nonpayment of rent, recovery of possessionhealth hazard or damage to property, and just cause eviction from a mobile home. Most landlords use these forms.

Getting the Summons & Complaint

A copy of the summons and complaint and all attachments must be served on you by mail. In addition, you must also be served 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 to accept it

  • By securely attaching it to the main entrance of your dwelling after failed diligent attempts

  • By sending it to you electronically (by e-mail)

In order for your landlord to be able to serve you by e-mail all of these must happen:

  • You must have agreed to be served by e-mail in writing (this agreement could be in your lease)

  • Your landlord must have sent you the agreement or confirmation by e-mail

  • You must have replied to your landlord’s e-mail

If you change your e-mail address, you must let your landlord know about your new e-mail address in writing, or go through the process listed above for your new e-mail address.

This means you should get two copies of the summons and complaint in order for service to be proper.

Your landlord can’t be the one to serve you. A process server often serves court papers, 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.

If you are not properly served, you can raise this as a defense to eviction. To learn more about defenses to eviction, read Common Defenses and Counterclaims in Eviction Cases.

Responding to the Summons & Complaint

If you get a summons and complaint, it should have a date when you need to go to court. You can go to court and verbally respond at the hearing or you can file a written answer with the court.

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 Do-It-Yourself Answer to Eviction Complaint tool 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 the 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 the Do-It-Yourself Answer to Eviction Complaint tool 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 waive it by filing a Fee Waiver Request. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Fee Waiver tool 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 Do-It-Yourself Answer to Eviction Complaint tool.

To learn more, read Common Defenses and Counterclaims in Eviction Cases.

Getting Ready for Court

When you appear in court, the trial could happen that day. Bring everything you need to prove your case that day. 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.

Gather Evidence

To prepare for the hearing, gather your evidence.  Your evidence might include:

  • Copies of letters or e-mails you’ve sent to your landlord or housing department

  • Letters or e-mails 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 court clerk to issue an order to appear (subpoena). The order will require 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 court clerk to make arrangements for service of this order.

Appearing in Court

It’s important to remember that when you represent yourself in court, you are expected to follow the same rules a lawyer does. Information about appearing in court is available in the article What to Expect When You Go to Court.

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. Check in with 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.

Who’s Who

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 a lawyer. If you want one, that is a good reason to delay the trial. If either you or your landlord does not have a lawyer but requests one, the judge will generally adjourn the trial or hearing for seven days. The right to get a lawyer means either side can have one if they can afford it. It does not mean the court or anyone else will pay for your lawyer.

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.

The Trial

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 lawyer will also get to ask your landlord’s witnesses questions. Your landlord has to prove what is 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.

The Ruling

After you and your landlord present your case, the judge or the jury will decide what should happen. They will decide whether you have to move, if you owe any money, and if so, how much. That decision should be based on the law and who has the more believable evidence. Sometimes there can be a mixed result. The judge or jury can find some things in favor of both you and your landlord.

If one party clearly wins, that party can ask that the other party pay some of the case costs. The amount of costs is determined by the law. However, each party is responsible for their own legal fees.

Alternatives to Court

You and your landlord may work out an agreement or resolution yourselves any time 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 is a judgment in the case, read Eviction after Court is Over.