I get several calls a week from residential tenants that are having issues with their landlords and don’t know where to turn. This blog provides a brief primer on the most common landlord/tenant issue that I receive calls about: a landlord’s failure to make repairs. Many times tenants will call their landlords to complain about issues with the property they are renting. The landlords will tell the tenants that they will take care of the issue, but never seem to get around to it.
Michigan law requires landlords to keep a residential premises they are leasing “fit for the use intended by the parties” and “in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, and to comply with the applicable health and safety laws of the state and of the local unit of government where the premises are located.” However, if there is a written lease for one year or longer, the tenant and landlord can modify that legal requirement.
In Michigan, there are self-help remedies that tenants can use in an attempt to force their landlords into compliance with the law. The two most common self-help remedies are: 1) to withhold all or a portion of your rent; or 2) to make the repairs yourself/hire a contractor and deduct the amounts spent from your rent.
In order to use either remedy, the tenant needs to provide the landlord with written notice of the issues and give the landlord a reasonable time to repair the issues. A phone call/text is not sufficient. If you make a phone call or send a text, follow it up with a letter. That’s right, an old school snail mail letter. An email will also do, but a letter is best. Make sure you keep a copy for your records. Your landlord might also have a certain form that needs to be filled out for repairs to be requested, if there are such forms, complete those and send them along with your letter. What is a reasonable amount to make the repairs depends on the nature of the issues. If your landlord still fails to make repairs, you have the option to:
The amount you withhold should be proportionate to the problem that needs to be fixed. For instance, you would withhold more for broken kitchen sink than you would for a broken light fixture in a closet. Withholding all rent should only be done where there are very serious and dangerous issues with the property. The rent you withhold must be placed in an escrow account. That is an account that just contains the withheld rent and nothing else. I often tell clients to just go open a separate bank account for this purpose.
Repair and Deduct
If you chose to repair the issue yourself or hire someone to do it, shop around. If you are hiring the job out, get at least two, preferably three, estimates for the work. If you are doing it yourself, compare the costs of the different items you need. Most rentals do not have high-end fixtures and your landlord will not have to reimburse you for the full amount you spend if you replace a $50 kitchen faucet with a fancy $300 one. Once you get price estimates, send those to the landlord and once again tell the landlord that unless the issue is fixed by “x” date, that you will go ahead with the repairs and deduct that amount from the next month (or months, depending on the size of repair) rent. If the landlord does not comply and you do or have the work done, make sure you send a copy of all receipts to the landlord.
If the repair is a large one, I would recommend withholding rent instead of repairing and deducting the issue.
Contact Your Municipality
You can also contact the city or township that you live in. Many of them have ordinances that protect tenants. Some even require that residential landlords be licensed. The City of Detroit has a special department, Buildings, Safety Engineering, & Environmental Department (BSEED), that is responsible for making sure that all rental properties in the city are properly registered, up to code, and have obtained a Certificate of Compliance. You can make a complaint to the BSEED and even use them to escrow your rent payments (https://detroitmi.gov/departments/buildings-safety-engineering-and-environmental-department/bseed-divisions/property-maintenance/rental-property-information/rental-property-escrow).
If you are having issues with your landlord and you require legal representations, please give our firm a call at (248) 349-6203. Please be advised that we cannot give legal advice over the phone and can only provide legal advice to our clients.
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