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Michigan Supreme Court Prioritizes Landlord-Tenant Cases for Eviction

The Michigan Governor is not expected to extend the moratorium on evictions come June 12—despite several protest to the contrary. In that regard, the Michigan Supreme Court issued new administrative orders on June 9 to courts on how to handle landlord-tenant cases in the coming weeks and months. (Note: CARES Act covered properties will remain under an eviction moratorium until July 28.)

The order directs “courts to process landlord/tenant cases using a prioritization approach.” The order is intended to assist courts with complying with other orders regarding the number of individuals allowed in a given indoor space and to enable landlords impacted the most to obtain a hearing sooner than later. The order states: “This approach will help limit the possibility of further infection while ensuring that landlord/tenant cases are able to be filed and adjudicated efficiently.”

When courts resume scheduling hearings, the following operational priorities will apply:

  1. First priority: complaints alleging illegal activity under MCL 600.5714(1)(b) (drug activity) and complaints alleging extensive and continuing physical injury to the premises under MCL 600.5714(1)(d).
  2. Second priority: complaints alleging nonpayment of rent for 120 days or more.
  3. Third priority: complaints alleging nonpayment of rent for 90 days or more.
  4. Fourth priority: complaints alleging nonpayment of rent for 60 days or more.
  5. Fifth priority: complaints alleging nonpayment of rent for 30 days or more.
  6. Courts should proceed to a subsequent priority when all cases in the higher priority have been scheduled for hearing. (All other cases that are not included in priority 1 through 5, including other violations of the lease agreement or cases for possession only.)

 
So, what do landlords do about cases that were filed before April 16, 2020? Those case filings must be updated for the factual allegations included in the original complaint by filing the verification form required by Administrative Order No. 2020-8 before a hearing will be scheduled. The court shall not require an additional filing fee.

The order further states that “instead of setting many cases for one hearing time as has traditionally been common, each case must be scheduled for a particular date and time (whether held in-person or remotely) to allow in-person proceedings to be held safely.” This will likely further extend the time out in which cases will be heard.

The order further encourages courts to use remote participation tools ad hold remote hearings to the extent possible. Details provided in the order include requirements that the court scheduling a remote hearing must “verify that all participants are able to proceed in this manner.” Therefore, the summons for each case filed under the Summary Proceedings Act must provide the date and time for remote participation in the scheduled hearing. If a remote hearing is scheduled for the first proceeding, the defendant received personal service pursuant to MCR 2.105(A), and the defendant fails to appear, a default may enter. If a remote hearing is scheduled for the first proceeding and the defendant fails to appear and has not been served under MCR 2.105(A), the court may not enter a default but must reschedule the hearing and mail notice for that rescheduled hearing as an in-person proceeding. Under these conditions, a notice of rescheduled hearing mailed by the court within 24 hours is sufficient notice of the rescheduled hearing, notwithstanding any other court rule. Other parties or participants may proceed remotely.

Some courts may delay opening or may have additional restrictions in place due to the “Return to Full Capacity” guidelines included in the court’s previous order 2020-14.

Written responses to complaints have also been suspended. This would include eviction cases filed in the City of Jackson and others.

The RPOA worked with the State Court Administrators Office on setting priorities for cases. The one priority on the list missing from the Supreme Court’s ruling advocated by the RPOA was situations where the tenant is acting in a manner that is significantly distressing other tenants or otherwise carrying out egregious violations of the lease. The RPOA believed this should be second on the list.  In the end, apparently the Supreme Court did not agree with that recommendation.

The RPOA also recommended that each phase on the list of priorities be no longer than 10 days. Nothing was included in this order to address how long each phase should last.  The assumption is that the Court is letting local courts make those determinations based upon the number of cases that are filed and scheduled. The RPOA is still hopeful that courts will consider the 10-day time period where possible.

Will there be help for tenants that have not be able to pay rent? Yes. At least two sources were specifically identified in the order but others may also be available on a local or case-by-case basis depending on whether or not the tenant is eligible for assistance based upon income, etc. One source mentioned was the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), the local Coordinated Entry Agency (CEA), or the federal Help for Homeless Veterans program—all of which may be able to assist the parties with payment of some or all of the rent due. Another note in the order changes when a tenant can seek assistance that may be helpful and remove the need for a hearing. The order states that “defendants DO NOT need a judgment to receive assistance from MDHHS or the local CEA. The Summons and Complaint from the court case are sufficient.” The RPOA continues its discussions with the Governor’s office to find additional funding from Federal sources.

With restrictions in place, the RPOA expects that cases will drag out several weeks, if not months, longer than normal. With that in mind, landlords may want to consider negotiating a settlement with tenants in lieu of pursuing eviction. The longer tenants go without paying any amount of rent, the harder it will be for them to catch up with payments or make full or partial payments.

To assist members with their eviction paperwork and questions, the RPOA office will be open by appointment only in 30-minute increments starting Tuesday, June 16. The office will be open three days per week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from that point forward until the number of walk-in customers can be handled safely and efficiently under the distancing guidelines provided by other Executive Orders.  Members are encouraged to stay apprised of any office hour changes, etc. through email announcements or on our website. Members will be required to wear a face mask and use hand sanitizer before entering the main office space. The exterior office door will remain locked. Members may call the RPOA now during normal business operations to begin scheduling their visit. We ask all members to be respectful of the 30-minute limit so staff can assist as many members as possible each day.

 

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