When you rent a home to someone, you are a landlord and the person renting the home is your tenant. As a landlord, you have certain rights and responsibilities. This article gives an overview of the different rights and responsibilities you have as a residential landlord.
How Do I Know If I’m a Landlord?
Many times, landlord-tenant relationships are obvious. You own the property and have a lease that says you are renting the property to a tenant. You can be a landlord without a written lease if there is an oral agreement to rent the property between you and a tenant. Some situations can be less clear. For example, if you let a friend stay in your home for a few months and they agree to help pay for groceries and utilities, there may be a landlord-tenant relationship.
If the person living in your property refuses to leave after you ask, it is important to know whether there is a landlord-tenant relationship. To learn more, read How Do I Know If I Am a Landlord?
Rules about Leases
If there is a written lease, the law requires it to say some things and not others. To learn more about what can and cannot be part of a lease, read What’s In a Lease?
Most of the time changes to a lease must be agreed to by both the landlord and tenant in writing. A landlord can only change the lease on their own if all of the following is true:
- The lease specifically allows for this kind of change
- The landlord gives the tenant at least 30-day’s written notice
- The change is the result of a change to one or more of these:
- Local, state, or federal laws
- Property rules meant to protect health, safety, and peaceful enjoyment
- Increases in property taxes, utilities, or property insurance premiums the landlord must pay
These things apply to written leases, but not all leases are written. To learn more, read Oral Leases.
A landlord must keep the rental home in good repair. For example, the landlord must repair plumbing problems, leaky roofs, and any issues with appliances that came with the rental home. If a tenant intentionally or very carelessly causes damage to the rental property, the landlord can charge the tenant for the costs of repair.
If there is a common area, the landlord must keep it in proper shape.
Not Making Repairs
When landlords do not make repairs, tenants can decide to withhold rent or pay for the repairs and deduct the amount from future rent. Typically, the tenant should ask in writing for the repairs before they do either of these things.
It is important to remember that by not keeping the home in good repair the landlord violates Michigan law.
A landlord must allow the tenant the ability to use and enjoy the rental property without landlord interference. The general rule is that a landlord can only enter the rental property with the tenant's permission, except in emergencies.
Tenant Ending a Lease Early
The general rule is that for the entire lease term, the landlord must provide housing in good repair and the tenant must pay rent. If the tenant violates a legal lease or there are other good reasons for an eviction case, the landlord can file one during the lease term. In some circumstances, the tenant can end the lease early without responsibility for paying rent for the rest of the lease.
If the tenant moves out before the lease ends apart from one of these reasons, the lease can say how these situations are treated. The lease might allow the tenant to pay a lease termination fee to get out of paying rent for the rest of the lease. If the tenant moves out without a legal excuse, the landlord must try to re-rent the property.
If the tenant wants to move because of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault, Michigan law lets them end the lease early. The tenant must give the landlord notice and will have to pay no more than 2 more months of rent. Ending a lease early because of this reason will not affect the tenant’s right to their security deposit.
To learn more, read Breaking a Lease in Domestic Violence Situations.
Eligibility for Senior Subsidized Housing or Becoming Incapable of Living Independently
If a tenant has lived in the rental unit for at least 13 months and the tenant becomes eligible for subsidized senior housing, they are allowed to end the lease with 60 days’ written notice and written proof of their eligibility. If a tenant has lived in the rental unit for at least 13 months and they can no longer live independently, they can also end the lease with 60 days’ written notice and a doctor’s notarized statement.
Serious Violations of Primary Responsibilities
If the landlord so seriously violates its responsibility to make repairs or not interfere with the tenant's use and enjoyment that it is difficult for the tenant to keep living there, it could justify the tenant ending the lease early without further responsibility to pay rent.
A Landlord’s Right to Make Decisions about the Rental Home
As a landlord, you have a lot of discretion (leeway) in deciding important things about your rental. Some examples include:
- The amount of rent you will charge
- Whether any utilities will be included in rent
- Whether to require a tenant to get renter’s insurance
- Whether your tenant will be responsible for landscaping and snow removal
- Whether to allow subleasing, and if so, the rules around it
- The term (length) of the lease
If there is disagreement about some of these terms with the tenant, you and the tenant can negotiate an agreement about these terms. There are some other things that you can decide, but federal, state, and local laws limit your discretion. Two important examples are security deposits and fair housing requirements.
Fair Housing Requirements
Michigan and U.S. fair housing laws say that landlords cannot discriminate against tenants or applicants because of their race, color, religion, sex, familial status (kids under 18), national origin, disability, age, or marital status. For persons with disabilities, landlords must make changes in their policies and practices to make sure that they have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. These changes fall into 2 categories: reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification.
A reasonable accommodation is a change to a rule or practice that gives a tenant with a disability an equal chance to use and enjoy a home. Some common examples of reasonable accommodation requests are:
- A tenant with limited mobility asks for a parking space closer to their door
- A tenant asks to pay rent on or after the third of each month since that is when they get their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) money
- A tenant asks that their caregiver be allowed to stay overnight a few nights a week
- A tenant asks a landlord not to evict them because of an incident related to a mental health condition (In this case, the tenant usually must show steps have been taken to prevent another incident, such as getting counseling or taking medication)
To get a reasonable accommodation, a tenant must ask for it. This can be done verbally or in writing. The request should include all of these:
- A statement that the tenant has a disability (if the disability is not known or obvious to the landlord) and how it impairs the tenant’s use of their home
- The reasonable accommodation that is needed
- How the accommodation will help the tenant use their home
A landlord must respond to a request for a reasonable accommodation. Unless the disability or need for the accommodation is obvious, a landlord can ask for some proof or verification of them from the tenant or applicant. A landlord must make a decision before taking any negative action against the tenant, such as filing an eviction case.
If a landlord denies a request, it must consider with the tenant whether there are other accommodations that would meet the tenant's needs. A landlord can deny an accommodation if it would be too financially or administratively costly (the legal term is "undue burden") or if it would make the landlord significantly change how it runs its business (the legal term is "fundamental alteration").
Assistance Animals As A Reasonable Accommodation
While a landlord can have a pet policy, they cannot ban assistance animals or charge pet fees for assistance animals. This is because assistance animals are not pets. A tenant with a disability has the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation to have an assistance animal.
One exception is for landlords who own and live in a home they also rent if the home has less than four rental units. A rental unit can be a house, apartment, or room. In this situation, the landlord does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation for a tenant to keep an assistance animal.
A Landlord’s Rights Regarding Assistance Animals
A landlord can ask for a note from a doctor or other medical professional if a tenant’s disability or the need for a reasonable accommodation is not obvious. For example, if a tenant has an emotional support animal, you can ask for a note from the tenant’s doctor. You can also ask if an animal is an assistance animal needed for a disability and what work the animal performs. Landlords and other housing providers can deny an animal access if it is not house-trained or is out of control. A landlord can also refuse to allow an assistance animal if the animal is a serious and genuine threat to others or the property of others. This threat must be based on that specific animal’s actions, not fears about what it might do, nor its breed or size. For example, a landlord cannot deny housing or a reasonable accommodation to a tenant with a pit bull assistance animal because the landlord thinks all pit bulls are violent.
A Landlord’s Rights Regarding Accommodations
Landlords who own and live in a home they also rent do not have to provide reasonable accommodations if the home has less than four rental units. A rental unit can be a house, apartment, or room.
A reasonable modification is a change to a building that lets a tenant with a disability fully use and enjoy a home. It includes changes to public and common use spaces as well as private spaces within a tenant’s home. Some examples are:
- Adding a ramp for a wheelchair
- Widening doorways
- Adding grab bars in the bathroom
- Lowering kitchen countertops
A landlord cannot refuse to allow reasonable and necessary physical changes to a property. In private housing, the tenant will probably have to pay the cost of making the changes and maintaining them, unless the cost is low. If the cost is low, the landlord may have to pay the cost of the reasonable modification.
If a landlord gets government funding to maintain accessible housing (not including Section 8 voucher), they may have to cover more of the cost of the modification than a private landlord would.
To get a reasonable modification, a tenant must ask for it. This can be done orally or in writing. The request should include all of these:
- A statement that the tenant has a disability (if the disability is not known or obvious to the landlord) and how it impairs the tenant’s use of their home
- The reasonable modification that is needed
- How the modification will help the tenant use their home
A Landlord’s Rights Regarding Modifications
For the most part, the rules for considering reasonable accommodations also apply to reasonable modifications.
Landlords who own and live in a home they also rent do not have to provide reasonable modifications if the home has less than four rental units. A rental unit can be a house, apartment, or room.
If a building does not have an elevator, only the first-floor units need to be wheelchair accessible.
A security deposit is money the tenant gives you when they move in that must be given back at the end of the lease. A security deposit is the tenant’s property unless you establish a right to all or part of it for one of these reasons:
- The tenant has not paid all their rent;
- The tenant has not paid all the utilities and you have to pay them so the next tenant can have utilities, too; or
- The tenant leaves the home damaged beyond normal wear and tear.
The most a landlord can ask for a security deposit is one-and-one-half times the monthly rent. For example, if rent is $500 a month, you cannot ask for more than a $750 security deposit.
There are also notice requirements for security deposits that landlords must follow. To learn more, read An Overview of Security Deposits for Landlords.
The Eviction Process
Eviction is the legal process to try to get possession of a rental property from a tenant or other occupant. The eviction process is primarily available in landlord-tenant relationships. Housemates who are on the same lease with the landlord usually cannot evict each other. If you have questions about whether you are a landlord, read How Do I Know If I Am a Landlord?
If a person enters a home without permission and stays in that home, they are not a tenant. To learn more, read the section “Trespassers and Squatters” below.
Eviction laws allow faster access to court and a quicker resolution than in other lawsuits.
Landlords cannot legally evict a tenant without first going to court and getting an eviction order. Without an eviction order, landlords cannot do anything that prevents a tenant from having access to their home. If a landlord does something that wrongly interferes with a tenant’s use of the home, the landlord could have to pay the tenant. The tenant can ask a judge for up to three times their actual damages or $200 per day, whichever is more. Here are some examples of things landlords cannot do:
- Use force or threaten to use force to make a tenant leave or keep them out of their home
- Enter the home without a tenant’s permission in non-emergency situations
- Remove, withhold, or destroy the tenant’s property
- Change, alter, or add locks or security devices to the home without the tenant’s permission
- Board up the premises to prevent entry or make it more difficult
- Cause an interruption or shut-off of water, electric, or gas service
- Cause loud noises, bad odors, or other nuisances
- Put the tenant’s belongings out on the street
Only the sheriff or another court officer can physically remove a tenant and their belongings from the home. This can only happen after a landlord gets a judgment and then an eviction order.
There are specific notice requirements for evictions. To learn more about them, review A Practical Guide for Tenants & Landlords published by the Michigan State Legislature.
Reasons for Eviction
Here are reasons a landlord can start an eviction case:
- The tenant has not paid rent;
- The tenant did not move when the lease ended;
- The tenant violated a lease term that the lease says will lead to eviction;
- The tenant caused extensive and continuing physical damage to the home;
- The tenant created a serious and continuing health hazard in or to the home; or
- The tenant was involved in illegal drug activity on the property.
In most of these cases, a landlord must give the tenant a written notice before filing a court complaint.
Subsidized housing landlords must generally prove there is "good cause" (usually a serious lease violation) to evict a tenant. Mobile home park owners must prove "just cause" (the state law that applies to these cases lists just cause situations) to terminate a tenancy. To learn more about them, review A Practical Guide for Tenants & Landlords published by the Michigan State Legislature.
If you are not sure whether you have good cause or just cause, you may want to speak with a lawyer. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you cannot afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.
A holdover tenant is someone who stays in the home after a lease ends. If rent is paid monthly, the landlord must give the tenant one month’s notice to terminate the tenancy before filing a court case. A holdover tenant is not a trespasser. This is true even if the tenant’s legal right to possession has ended, and the tenant stays without the landlord’s permission.
Trespassers and Squatters
A person who moved into a home without permission and stays there does not have the same rights as a tenant. A landlord can probably legally remove them and their belongings. A landlord might not have to go to court to remove such an occupant. But, if a court determines that the occupant had the right to live in the property, the occupant might have a claim for significant damages against the property owner.