Going to Court in an Eviction Case

Topic Menu

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 issue by working something out 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; and

  • You have the right to a jury trial, and you must request it and pay a jury demand fee when you first appear in court or in writing within 5 days of your first court date;

Along with the summons, your landlord also must attach an Advice of Rights and Information form, as well as information on local rental and housing assistance. Your landlord can check with the court to get the information on local rental and housing assistance.

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 to live in, in reasonable repair, and in compliance with health and safety laws;

  • Whether your landlord is asking for a jury trial; and

  • 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 may choose to have the court mail you a second copy of the summons and complaint. To do that, they need to fill out and file a Request for Court Mailing and Record of Mailing by Court.

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. It is very important that you go to this court date.

It is also important to respond to what your landlord said in the complaint so the judge knows your side of the issue. You can go to court and tell the judge your response to the complaint at the hearing or you can file a written answer with the court. Either way, it is very important that you go to your court date.

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. 

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 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 when you first appear in court or in writing within 5 days of your first court date. Be prepared to pay the fees for a jury trial when you request it. 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 that defense in your answer, and you must tell the court the facts that support 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

The first hearing will likely be over video conference, like Zoom. Your summons should tell you whether the hearing will be in person or over Zoom. If you have questions about how to access the hearing, you can call the clerk's office.

If your landlord is arguing that there is illegal drug activity in the home, a serious health hazard or extensive damage to the home, that you are causing injury or threatening to hurt someone, or that you are a trespasser, your first hearing will likely be the trial. At the trial, the judge hears from both sides and decides who wins.

If your landlord is not making those arguments, your first hearing should not be the trial. Instead, it should be a pretrial hearing where the judge hears a little about the case, can ask the parties questions and provide information, and then schedules the next court date. Even though it should not be the trial, it is still very important that you show up to make sure you do not get defaulted.

Prepare yourself before the day of the hearing. Review the information in your Answer. Make a list of what you think the judge needs to know and bring any important documents or notes that support your arguments. Even if your hearing is likely to be a pretrial hearing, it is good to be ready to explain your side.

Gather Evidence

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

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

  • Letters, e-mails, or text messages 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 take place at the location or Zoom room stated in the summons. It is important to be there on time. Dress neatly. Arrive 10 or 15 minutes before your hearing is scheduled. If the hearing is in person, 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.

Pretrial Hearing 

If your eviction case is for nonpayment of rent and you have applied for rental assistance, be sure to tell the judge that you applied for rental assistance. You also need to fill out the Rental Assistance Form (check "Proof of Application") and attach proof that you submitted an application. This Rental Assistance Form and attached proof needs to be filed with the court and served on your landlord or their lawyer, if they have one. You can do that when you are at court. The eviction case should be stayed, or paused, for 14 days to allow that application to be processed. Your eviction case will continue after those 14 days unless you file and serve the Rental Assistance Form again (this time, check "Status Update"), and attach proof that your application is still being processed or has been approved. You need to file and serve this second Rental Assistance Form and your proof within 14 days of when the judge first paused your case. In that case, the stay should be extended for 14 more days, for a total of 28 days. After those 28 days, your case will continue. Your next hearing after that stay could be your trial.

If you have not applied for rental assistance before your first hearing, but you want to, you can still apply within 5 days of your first hearing. In order to get your case paused, you need to fill out the Rental Assistance Form (check "Proof of Application") and attach proof that you submitted an application. Within 5 days of your first hearing, you need to file the Rental Assistance Form and the attached proof with the court and serve (send) it to your landlord, or their lawyer, if they can one. Your case should then be paused in the same way as explained above.

If you do not have a pending application for rental assistance, the court should set the next hearing at least seven days after your first hearing. This next hearing could be your trial.

At the hearing, the judge should tell you that you have the right to get a lawyer. 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 either you or your landlord does not have a lawyer but wants to find one, the judge will generally reschedule the trial or hearing for the following week if your trial is scheduled for that day.

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 their side of the case, and to show their evidence. It is very important to follow the rules and not interrupt the other side during their 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 conditional dismissal or consent judgment.

A conditional dismissal is an agreement where the parties agree to have the case dismissed as long as both sides follow the agreement. If the tenant doesn't follow the agreement, the landlord can go back and get a judgment against the tenant. A conditional dismissal keeps an eviction judgment off a tenant's housing history and credit report as long as they follow the agreement. This can make it easier for a tenant to find other housing in the future. You can use the Consent Order for Conditional Dismissal form for this type of agreement.

A consent judgment is an agreement where the parties agree that the landlord can get a judgment against the tenant on the agreed terms. This means that a consent judgment looks worse on a tenant’s record than a conditional dismissal because a judgment is entered against the tenant. This can make it harder for a tenant to find other housing in the future. You can use the Judgment form for this type of agreement.

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.

Read Negotiations in Eviction Cases to learn more.

To learn about what happens after there is a judgment in the case, read Eviction after Court is Over.


Last Updated: November 6, 2023