The eviction process can be costly in terms of money and time for both landlords and tenants if the case goes to trial. The eviction process could be drawn out because of multiple hearings and the time needed to get a jury for trial. Even if the trial ends with judgments awarding money, the winning party won’t necessarily see that money immediately. Coming to a settlement agreement allows the parties to avoid a trial and save time, and money.
During the negotiation process the parties do not have to reach an agreement. They can always have a judge decide the case at trial. There may be cases where the parties should not negotiate. This article goes over the pros and cons of negotiations, and possible outcomes.
Along with saving time and money, you also have more control over the outcome of a settlement agreement. That is because you and the other party decide the terms of an agreement instead of a judge or jury deciding who has the stronger case. Think about what you would lose if you don’t win the trial. If that seems too risky, you may try negotiating with the other party.
Possible Agreement Terms
For the most part, you and the other party are free to come up with the terms of your agreement. Here are some possible terms you can agree to:
- The landlord will give the tenant more time to move
- The tenant promises to stop doing something the landlord has a problem with (such as leaving trash in common areas)
- The landlord agrees to reduce or waive late fees and court fees
- The landlord agrees to reduce rent for unfixed repairs
- The tenant will pay back rent or fees over a period of time in an installment plan
- The landlord promises to make repairs, and more timely repairs from this point on
- The tenant will no longer allow guests in their home that the landlord believes make trouble
- The landlord will give the tenant a neutral reference
- The landlord will dismiss the case after the tenant pays or moves out so there is no eviction judgment against the tenant (read “Conditional Dismissals” below to learn more)
Agreements could have a combination of terms listed above or others not listed. Both parties should feel comfortable with the terms of the agreement. If you don’t feel comfortable starting negotiations because you are not sure how, you can learn about some strategies by reading Settlement and Negotiation Strategies.
When Should You Not Negotiate?
Negotiations are not always the best choice in every case. Here are some scenarios when a party should not agree to negotiate:
- When there is a severe difference in power between the parties, especially if one party has been violent or tried intimidating the other
- When one party has any limitations or difficulty understanding the issues in the case
- When there are language barriers
If one of these scenarios applies to your situation, it might not be a good idea to negotiate with the other party. You don’t have to negotiate if you do not feel comfortable. You may feel more comfortable having a lawyer represent you. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t 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.
If the Other Party Has a Lawyer
If the other party has a lawyer, this could be an example of severe difference in power between the parties. Remember that the lawyer is representing their client’s best interests, not yours. The lawyer does not work for the court, and will not be neutral. The lawyer does not have to explain the law to you. If the lawyer does mention the law, they can explain their interpretation of the law and how it benefits their client.
Landlords are much more likely to have a lawyer than tenants are. Often times, the negotiated settlement a tenant gets is no better for them than the worst outcome they would get if a judge or jury decides the case. Tenants can try to offset some of their negotiating disadvantage by learning about the eviction process and their rights as tenants.
The Negotiation Process
If both parties feel comfortable discussing the case, they can start negotiating any time before a judge signs a final order or judgment. The parties can start negotiating before a case is even filed in court to save filing fees. With landlord-tenant cases that have not been resolved, negotiations often happen at the first court date.
If the parties come to an agreement before anything is filed with the court, the agreement won’t need to be approved by a judge. The agreement should be in writing so that both parties are clear on their obligations.
Both parties should always keep copies of any agreements they sign.
Sometimes people find it helpful to find a neutral third person to help the process, like a mediator. A mediator can help you come to an agreement any time before the judge signs a final order or judgment. To learn more about mediation, read Mediation and Other Forms of Settlement.
If you would like to find mediators in your area, use the Guide to Legal Help. The Courts & Agencies section on this page may list a dispute resolution center in your area if you selected your county.
Negotiations and Court
Once a complaint and answer are filed in court, a judge will need to approve any agreement the parties come to that would end the case. In eviction cases, it is common for negotiation to happen at court dates. In court, the landlord or the landlord’s lawyer will often call the names of tenants and go out to talk in the hall. If this does not happen, you can also look for your landlord or their lawyer to talk about the case before the judge calls it. You can come to an agreement any time before the judge signs a final order or judgment. During a hearing, the judge could even suggest the parties step out into the hallway and try negotiating. Even if a judge suggests the parties negotiate, the parties are not required to reach an agreement.
Two common settlement agreements in eviction cases are conditional dismissals and consent judgments.
A conditional dismissal asks the judge to dismiss the case but allows the judge to reopen the case and enter a judgment if the one party doesn’t follow the agreement. For example, the tenant must pay $5,000 within 14 days, or the landlord must make specified repairs within 20 days. If one party doesn’t do what the agreement requires, the other can ask the judge to resume the case and enter a judgment or another type of order.
For tenants, conditional dismissals keep an eviction judgment off their housing history and credit report. This is especially important for tenants who may need subsidized housing because they can say they do not have an eviction judgment against them. The case will still appear on the court’s docket. This means there will be a public record that the case was filed. If a future landlord claims that the tenant has an eviction record, the tenant can show that it was dismissed.
Both parties need to feel comfortable with the terms of the conditional dismissal before they agree to it. This is especially true for tenants. A tenant should not sign a conditional dismissal if they will not be able to follow it – for example, agreeing to make large payments they can’t afford. No one should sign an agreement if they did not read and understand it. If the written agreement is different than what you negotiated, do not sign it. If there is a dispute later, the judge will use the written agreement to make a decision. If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating the terms of a conditional dismissal, you can try to get a mediator involved or a lawyer to represent you. If you have low income, you may be able to have a lawyer from your local legal services office represent you for free. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and a legal services office in your area.
If the parties come to an agreement after a court case starts, they can sign a consent judgment. A consent judgment outlines the terms of the agreement and asks the judge to approve it and end the case. The judge may have questions of the parties or require changes to the order before they sign it.
A consent judgment means that the landlord and tenant agree that the landlord “won” the case on the agreed terms. This means that a consent judgment looks worse on a tenant’s record than a conditional dismissal.
Consent judgments are also final. Sometimes a tenant can try to have that judgment set aside. To learn more, read Setting Aside a Consent Judgment in an Eviction Case.
Both parties need to feel comfortable with the terms of the consent judgment before they sign it. This is especially true for tenants. A tenant should not sign a consent judgment if they will not be able to follow it – for example, agreeing to move out by a deadline if it does not give enough time to find a new home and move. No one should sign an agreement if they did not read and understand it. If the written agreement is different than what you negotiated, do not sign it. If there is a dispute later, the judge will use the written agreement to make a decision.
If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating the terms of a consent judgment, you can try to get a mediator involved or a lawyer to represent you. If you have low income, you may be able to have a lawyer from your local legal services office represent you for free. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and a legal services office in your area.