Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

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When you rent your home, you are a tenant. As a tenant, you have the right to live in the home. You also have responsibilities, such as paying rent. This article gives an overview of the various rights and responsibilities you have as a residential tenant.

Before You Rent

When you’re looking for a home to rent, you should know more than how many bedrooms it has and whether pets are allowed. You have a right to know what fees and costs you’ll be expected to pay before you sign a lease. You need to know if you can afford to move into the home and live there.

Costs of Renting

Here are some questions to ask to make sure you can afford to live in the home:

  • How long is the lease? If it’s not for a term that works for you, ask if that’s negotiable.

  • How much is rent?

  • Is there an application fee? Is there a fee for running a credit check before you can move in?

  • Is there a deposit to hold the rental property before you sign a lease or before you move in? If so, how much is the deposit? What happens to it when you move in? How could you lose that deposit?

  • Is there a security deposit? If so, how much is it? How could you lose your security deposit?

  • Are there other fees you have to pay before you move in?

  • What utilities are included in the rent? What utilities are you expected to pay?

Look before You Lease

Look at both the inside and outside of the home before you rent. To check into the condition of the building you can:

  • Ask the local building department whether the building or unit has been cited for violations

  • Ask any other tenants in the building if they’ve had problems

  • Search the internet to find information about the landlord or the building (but remember the internet isn’t always reliable)

Make sure any problems with the home or property are fixed before you sign a lease. If the problems can’t be fixed before you sign the lease, ask the landlord to say in writing that they’ll be fixed before you move in. If the landlord won’t agree to that, this landlord might to be difficult to deal with. Maybe you should consider renting a different home.

Read before You Sign

Once you find a home you can afford that meets your needs, you will probably have to sign a lease. Signing a written lease is important for both you and your landlord. It outlines what’s expected of you while you live in the home. It also tells you what you can expect from your landlord while you live in the home.

Read your lease before you sign it. Read any rules or policies your lease refers to.

If you don’t understand something in the lease, ask your landlord.

There are several types of clauses that are not allowed in leases in Michigan. If one is in your lease, your landlord will not be able to enforce it. To learn more, read What's in a Lease?

If you are thinking about renting a home without signing a lease, you may want to read Oral Leases to learn about some of the protections you may be giving up.

Know Your Civil Rights

The law protects tenants from illegal discrimination in housing. A landlord cannot discriminate against tenants based on their:

  • Religion

  • Race

  • Color

  • National origin

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Familial or marital status

  • Disability

Acts of discrimination include:

  • Refusing to sell or rent to a tenant

  • Refusing to let a potential tenant view a property

  • Giving a different price for housing or asking for different payments

  • Changing terms, conditions, or privileges in a lease

  • Falsely telling someone there are no rentals available

  • Falsely telling someone a particular unit is unavailable

  • Refusing to accommodate a disability, unless it would cause the landlord undue hardship

  • Evicting a tenant

  • Harassing, intimidating, or threatening a person

To learn more, read Discrimination in Rental Housing and Rights of Tenants With Disabilities.

If you think you’ve been discriminated against, you can contact a Fair Housing Center in your area for help. The centers in Michigan are:

Before You Move In

Before you move into your rental home, know what condition it’s in. If you will pay a security deposit, your landlord should give you a move-in checklist. If you don’t have to pay a security deposit, you can ask for a checklist or make your own.

With the checklist in hand, go through your home room by room and write down anything that is damaged. This includes little things, like chips in the paint or cracks in a window. Take pictures or video of any damage you find. Sign and date the list. Ask your landlord to sign and date it too. Make a copy of it. Give one copy to your landlord. Keep one copy for yourself.

To learn more about protecting your deposit, read Your Security Deposit: What It Is and How To Get It Back.

During Your Lease

Your Rights

You have the right to live in a home that is in good, habitable condition. This means both your home and the premises, such as a yard, should be safe and in good repair. Your landlord must also keep any common areas in good enough shape for their normal use.

Your landlord must make needed repairs in a reasonable time after being made aware of them. If you need something fixed in your home, let your landlord know as soon as possible. Ask that it be fixed in a certain amount of time. To write your landlord a letter asking for a repair, you can use the Do-It-Yourself Letter to Landlord (Repairs).

If you have a lease that is longer than one year, you may have waived this right. If you’re not sure, read your lease.

If your landlord doesn’t respond to your request for repairs, you may put your rent in an escrow account or pay for the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent.

If you put rent in an escrow account, it should be a separate account at a bank with only your rent funds in it. Tell your landlord in writing that you’re putting the rent in escrow. If you pay to fix the problem, keep all receipts to show exactly how much it cost. Putting your rent into an escrow account might lead your landlord to start an eviction case against you. It’s important to keep records.

The cost of setting up an account depends on your bank or credit union. Your bank or credit union might charge a small fee and require a minimum deposit. Talk to an agent at your bank or credit union to see what will work best for you. You do not need a special type of account to be your escrow account. You just need to show the court the rent is set aside, and you are willing to pay it if ordered.

If you have money in your escrow account after the dispute is resolved and your rent is paid, you can keep the money or transfer it into your personal account. If a judge ordered you to set up an escrow account and there is money left over after the dispute is resolved, the judge must order the money be released to you.

To learn more about repair issues, watch the video below about repair issues in eviction cases from Lakeshore Legal Aid:

You have the right to quiet enjoyment of your home. This means your landlord can’t do anything that prevents you from having access to your home. Your landlord must not:

  • Use force or threaten to use force to make you leave or keep you out of your home

  • Enter your home without your permission, unless it’s an emergency

  • Remove, withhold, or destroy your property

  • Change, alter, or add locks or security devices to the home without your permission

  • Board up the premises to prevent entry or make it more difficult

  • Cause interruption or shut-off of essential services, such as water, electricity, or gas

  • Cause loud noises, bad odors, or other nuisances

Your landlord can’t enter your home without permission except in an emergency. If there is a problem that your landlord needs to enter your home to fix, you should be given notice a reasonable time before the landlord plans to enter. If there’s an emergency problem, like an urgent leak or a condition that’s hazardous to neighbors, your landlord is allowed to enter without giving you notice.

Your Responsibilities

You are responsible for keeping your home in decent condition. Avoid damaging your home. You will be responsible for paying to repair damage you cause. Keep the home clean, respect your neighbors and pay your rent and utility bills. Make sure you get receipts for all rent and bills you pay, especially if you are paying in cash.

Check your lease to see if you need to get permission from your landlord before you paint your home or make similar changes.

Obey the terms of your lease. If your lease prohibits smoking or pets, don’t smoke or keep pets on the property. A lease can restrict your behavior in many ways. If you break the terms of your lease, your landlord may have the right to evict you.

To learn more about evictions, read Eviction: What Is It and How Does It Start?

Sharing Your Lease

If you have roommates or other tenants on the lease with you, you are each jointly and solely responsible for the commitments in the lease. This means all of you are responsible for the entire amount of the rent. You and your roommates will all be evicted even if you pay your share and your roommates don’t. You’re also all responsible if one of you violates the lease or causes damage to the home.

Changing Your Lease

You and your landlord can change the terms of your lease any time if you both agree. Any changes should be in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.

Sometimes your landlord can change the terms of the lease even if you don’t agree. Your landlord can only change your lease without your agreement if it’s to:

  • Follow a new law

  • Meet a health and safety concern

  • Raise rent to meet a raise in property taxes, utilities, or property insurance

Your landlord must give you written notice of these changes at least 30 days before they go into effect.

Your landlord could also sell the property while you are leasing it. The new landlord will have to follow the terms of the lease you have with the old landlord until the lease ends. Any security deposit will be transferred from the old landlord to the new one. The landlord might also return it to you and you’ll have to pay a deposit to the new landlord.

Extending Your Lease

After your lease ends, you can keep living in the home if you and your landlord agree. You can negotiate a new lease or become a month-to-month tenant. Some leases have clauses about renewing the lease. Renewal could be automatic if you don’t do something to tell your landlord you’re planning to move when the lease ends.

If a Roommate Moves Out

If your roommate moved out and left some of their property in your home, you need to give them a chance to pick it up. It may be best if you send them an e-mail or letter giving them a reasonable amount of time to collect their belongings. In your message let them know you plan to get rid of the property if they do not pick it up within the time frame you provided. Keep a copy of your message for your records. If your former roommate contacts you to arrange a different pick up time, decide on a time that works for you both.

If your former roommate does not respond or pick up their property within the reasonable time frame you gave them, you may throw it away or donate it. If you get rid of the property, your old roommate could later come back and demand their property or its value. This is why it is important to give them a chance to get their property and to keep a copy of the e-mail or letter you sent them. If they decide to take you to court, you can show the letter to the judge to prove you gave them notice and a reasonable amount of time to reclaim their property.

When You Move Out

Before Your Lease Ends

If you need to move out before the end of your lease, you are responsible for paying rent for the rest of the term of the lease unless you moved out after the landlord did not meet a significant legal responsibility. For example, if your landlord failed to fix your heat after you gave notice of the problem, you might be able to move out without paying any more rent. If you do, you will lose any rent you pre-paid. If you move out because your landlord did not meet a legal responsibility, be sure to get evidence. Write a letter to your landlord about the issue and keep a copy; also keep a copy of any inspection notices or written responses your landlord gives you.

If you need to move out and your landlord did not fail to meet a significant legal responsibility, you can ask your landlord if you can end your lease early without paying the rest, but don’t assume you’ll be excused from paying. If you move out before the end of the lease, your landlord should try to find someone else to rent the property. If your landlord can’t find someone else to rent the property, you may have to pay the rest of the rent.

If your landlord refuses to let you out of the lease early, you might consider subleasing your home if this is allowed by your lease. Subleasing is renting your rented home to another tenant. The sub-tenant pays rent to you.

A sublease does not change your responsibilities to your landlord. You remain responsible for paying any rent your sub-tenant does not. You are also still responsible for damage to the property including damage caused by your sub-tenant.

Check your lease to see if there are any restrictions on subleasing. Some leases do not allow it. Others require landlord approval of any sub-tenants. If you are considering a sublease, check your lease agreement to see what is required and get information about the rules of subleases from an  attorney or from a legal aid organization. Use the Guide to Legal Help or Community Services for a list of places that may be able to help.

If You Break Your Lease because of Domestic Violence

If you fear domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, you might be able to break your lease to move to a safe location without having to pay the rent through the end of your lease. To learn more, read Breaking a Lease in Domestic Violence Situations.

At the End of Your Lease

When you move out, use a copy of your move-in checklist to make sure you’re leaving everything as you found it. Look for any damage that is not on your move-in checklist. If there is any, your landlord might hold you responsible for repairing it. If you can easily fix or clean any damage that you caused, doing so can help you get your security deposit back and avoid claims for damages.

If possible, walk through the empty home with your move-out checklist and your landlord. Both of you can sign the move-out checklist and you should each get a copy of it.

Return your keys to your landlord as soon as you finish walking through the home. Ask for a receipt for them. Check your lease to see if there is any specific way that your landlord would like the keys returned.

After you have moved, you will still want to receive mail. You can make arrangements with the post office to forward your mail before you have moved to avoid any interruptions. You should also give your landlord your forwarding address within four days of moving out. This is important to make sure that you get your security deposit back.

To learn more about getting your security deposit back, see Security Deposits.