Maintenance Responsibilities for Landlords and Tenants in Michigan
Ever wonder who is responsible for what when it comes to maintenance? In Michigan, every residential lease is deemed by statute to contain a covenant (i.e. a promise) on the part of the landlord to keep the premises in reasonable repair and to comply with all applicable health and safety laws. Any breach of this covenant that deprives a tenant of beneficial use and enjoyment of the premises may justify termination of the lease. The following will provide an overview of what Michigan law says about maintenance and some practical advice for property managers.
Landlord Maintenance Responsibilities
Below are the basic landlord responsibilities regarding maintenance and repair:
- provide a safe and habitable dwelling;
- comply with state and local housing codes, where applicable;
- carry out repairs that are not the fault of the tenant;
- maintain any part of the dwelling, grounds, appliances, equipment, utilities as mutually agreed to in a lease.
Maintenance issues also rear their ugly heads when the tenant is injured on your property. Michigan law contends that the landlord is liable for personal injury to the tenant and/or their guests caused by a condition of disrepair that existed before or arose after the tenant takes possession, if:
- the lease or similar contract stipulates that the landlord will keep the “land” in repair;
- the disrepair creates an unreasonable risk that performance of the contract would prevent;
- and/or the landlord fails to exercise reasonable care to perform under a contract.
In general, the landlord’s duty is to exercise reasonable care to protect the tenant from known or discoverable hazards. These hazards must be unreasonably dangerous and also of the kind that the tenant will not discover or from which the tenant can be expected to fail to protect themselves.
Tenant Maintenance Responsibilities
Of course, tenants have a responsibility to the landlord as well. The following responsibilities are either explicitly or indirectly implied within Michigan law:
- keep the rented premises in a safe and sanitary condition*;
- promptly notify the landlord of maintenance problems;
- exterminate insects—if they were not there when tenant took possession;
- maintain any part of the dwelling, grounds, appliances, equipment, utilities as mutually agreed to in a lease;
- leave the rented premises in good condition (normal wear and tear excepted);
- pay for any damages caused by the tenant or their guests.
*Local housing code enforcement departments may hold the tenant responsible for housekeeping. However, the landlord will ultimately be forced clean the rental unit themselves and to evict the tenant with poor housekeeping habits if the tenant doesn’t comply.
Three Types of Maintenance Problems**
- Emergencies – situations that pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the occupants and require action within 24 hours. Examples: gas leak, flooding, and major structural damage.
- Major problem – situations that affect the quality of the residential environment but do not immediately endanger the occupants. Action should be taken within a few days of notice. Examples: defective water heater, clogged drain, heating problems in part of a unit, and defective locks on doors.
- Minor problem – situations that fall into the “nuisance” category. Nuisance items should be addressed as soon as possible, i.e. 30-60 days. Examples: defective lighting, dripping faucets, household pests, and peeling paint.
**Some defects/problems may fall under the local housing maintenance code of a particular city/village. In these cases, the municipality may stipulate the type of repair needed and how soon the repair needs to be completed.
Procedures for Giving the Landlord Notice
It’s always a good idea to inform your tenants of the procedure that you expect them to follow when repairs or maintenance seem to be needed. Remember that, if a repair is deemed to be more than just a nuisance, the tenant has a right to place rent in escrow until repairs are made; so, it behooves the landlord to make repairs quickly***. The following actions are the steps tenants should take and—in some cases have a right to take—regarding repairs and maintenance issues:
- The tenant should first call the landlord, explain the situation, express the importance of the repair, and when he/she would like it done.
- The tenant should notify the landlord in writing about the problem(s). Mention the previous conversation and the fact that the tenant may file a complaint with the local housing code enforcement department. (If the problem is causing the property to be unfit for occupancy, the tenant may mention that it is within their right to move and terminate payment of any subsequent rent.)
- If the tenant has given notice as noted above and the landlord still fails to take action, the tenant should either move or file a formal complaint with the local housing code enforcement department and begin placing rent in escrow.
A good management practice would be to give tenants a copy of the management company’s maintenance request procedures and a list of tenants’ rights under law. This way they can’t claim they didn’t know the proper procedures.
***If a landlord ignores a tenant’s request to make repairs and fails to maintain the premises in a habitable and safe condition, the landlord may be found to have “constructively evicted” the tenant, i.e. the tenant may feel compelled to move because the dwelling is unfit to live in. If this occurs, the landlord may have to pay a fine of $200.00 or three times the amount of the moving cost incurred by the tenant.
Complying with Local Housing Codes
In many communities, the local government has established housing codes that property owners must comply with to legally make their properties available for rent.
Most communities will not issue a “certificate of occupancy” until a rental unit is in compliance with local housing codes. In absence of a local code, the property must be maintained in a safe and habitable condition per State law. In Grand Rapids, properties must be registered before the current Certificate of Occupancy (CO) expires or upon the transfer of the property to new ownership. The following will occur before a CO will be issued:
- owner registers or re-registers the property with the City;
- an inspection will be made by the City citing any repairs that need to be made to bring the property into compliance with local housing codes;
- a Notice to Repair indicating what work needs to be done and how long the landlord will have to make the repairs will be issued to the owner for any items found not to be in compliance with local housing codes;
- the owner will make the necessary repairs****;
- once the repairs are completed, the City will issue a new CO that will be good for 2-4 years. (In rare cases, the City will issue a 6 year CO.)
****If the owner of the property needs more time for the repairs or feels that the community’s inspector has interpreted the code incorrectly, the owner may file an appeal with the Housing Appeals Board within 20 days of the issuance of any order or ruling received by the owner.
Who is Responsible for Paying for Repairs and Cleaning After the Tenant Moves Out?
The landlord must make all repairs and clean the unit— but may charge the tenant for any work that was needed to repair defects that did not result from “normal wear and tear”. The best way to define normal wear and tear is to describe the types of repairs and cleaning a landlord is expected to do as a normal course of business. (Keep in mind, that these expectations are generally those of the District Court’s.)
Once a tenant moves out of a unit, the landlord will be expected to do the following, at minimum:
- clean the unit from top to bottom, including scrubbing sinks, toilets, tubs, vacuuming and mopping floors, washing woodwork, cleaning light fixtures, etc.;
- shampoo the carpets one time, including at least one attempt to remove stubborn stains;
- re-paint the entire unit;
- make minor repairs such as replacing broken switch plates, repairing leaking faucets, tightening loosened fixtures or door handles, etc.
Any efforts that are made to repair or remove defects caused by the tenant beyond those listed above may be charged to the tenant as damages. You can charge for your own labor. So, keep track of how many hours you spend repairing damages beyond normal wear and tear.
Source: Michigan Compiled Law 554.139, 554.601, & 554.632-639
Disclosure: This Knowledge Base article is accurate as of the last update. Laws and policies are subject to change. If you have any questions, please call the office. Click here for contact information.