Landlord & Tenant Rights and Duties
The overview below briefly summarizes some of the most important issues in rental housing. For more information about your rights and duties, refer to Tenants and Landlords: A Practical Guide on the Michigan Legislature website.
Your landlord does not have the right to enter your apartment under most circumstances without advance notice and/or permission. Tenants are legally expected to allow reasonable access for legitimate purposes, such as to investigate or repair a water line break.
It is illegal under federal, state, and/or local law for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because of race, religion, disability, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, marital status, student status, or source of income, or because you have children. Application of laws may differ in some respects in owner-occupied dwellings. The landlord still has the right to screen all tenants as to individual responsibility and to select the one most suitable for the unit, as long as all tenants are screened equally. You have recourse if you are concerned that you may have been discriminated against during your search for housing.
The Genesee County Fair Housing Center assists clients through community legal education, brief service, counsel and advice, as well as representation which can take the form of negotiated settlements or litigation. You can reach the Genesee County Fair Housing Center at (800) 339-9513.
Landlords may require a security deposit of up to the equivalent of one and one-half month’s rent. The landlord must obtain a surety bond/cash bond or deposit the money in a financial institution, and should notify the tenant in writing where the money is held. The landlord may collect interest on the deposit, but does not have to give any part of the interest to the tenant. Usually, the landlord is not obligated to use the security deposit as last month’s rent.
The landlord must provide tenants with an Inventory Checklist at the beginning of the lease. Tenants must complete and return the checklist within seven days of taking occupancy. The landlord must notify tenants of their obligation to provide the landlord with a forwarding address at the end of the lease (within four days of moving out). Landlords must return the unused portion of the security deposit within 30 days of the end of tenancy. Deductions can be made only for unpaid rent, unpaid utility bills and damage not reasonably expected in the normal course of occupancy. Normal cleaning costs cannot be deducted from the security deposit. If the tenant disagrees with the withholding, there are specific legal procedures to be followed to dispute the charges and preserve legal rights.
Landlords are required to provide tenants with a clean and sanitary apartment at the time of move-in. Similarly, tenants are required to maintain the apartment in a clean and sanitary condition while occupying the apartment. Some landlords charge cleaning fees to cover the costs of cleaning an apartment after it is vacated. These fees generally range from $100 to $200. Ask the landlord if it is possible to “earn back” the cleaning fee by doing the cleaning yourself. Some landlords will offer this option.
Landlords can evict tenants by court order only, and cannot do so by changing locks or terminating utilities. Among reasons for eviction are nonpayment of rent, breaching the terms of the contract, causing a serious and continuous health hazard or damages to the premises, or holdover tenancy. You cannot be evicted if the action is intended as retaliation for an attempt to enforce rights under the lease or for an otherwise lawful act during tenancy, such as seeking compliance with local, state or federal health and safety standards. ALWAYS consult legal counsel if confronted with eviction proceedings. Court appearances may be required, and you could lose a case by default if you fail to respond properly.
Landlords have obligations under state and local laws to provide rental property in fit repair when the tenant moves in and to maintain it in reasonably good repair during occupancy.
Take time to read the lease carefully. In the lease, you should minimally expect to find the
specific dates for commencement and termination of occupancy, when the rent comes due and specific amounts charged for rent and the security deposit, as well as the names of tenants and the landlord. The state of Michigan has a “Truth in Renting” law that prohibits certain clauses in leases. There is still some ambiguity about the interpretation of some of these clauses. If you don’t understand a provision of your lease or question its validity, please seek advice from informed housing sources before making commitments.
A “joint and several” clause that makes each roommate responsible for the rent of the entire unit will almost always be included. If there is more than one tenant listed on the lease, and one tenant moves out, the others can be held responsible individually or as a group for all of the rent. So, be as sure as possible that all roommates agree on the housing chosen, lease terms and lease period.
The lease will usually run from September through August, although some May through April leases can be found. Some landlords do offer eight-month leases, running from September through April or January through August, frequently at a higher monthly rental rate than a 12-month lease. Month-to-month leases may sometimes be negotiated. Cancellation of a lease is rarely an option. Some leases contain a clause that gives the tenant limited ability to cancel the lease. For example, one common lease clause gives tenants 10 days after signing to change their minds and cancel the lease — but the lease cannot be canceled after the 30th day prior to the start of the lease. If the lease does not contain such a clause, the tenant probably has no guaranteed ability to get out of the lease once it is signed. In this case, the tenant could consider finding someone to sublet to, and discuss this option or a possible lease assignment with the landlord.