Help for Tenants
What Do Tenants & Landlords Really Want?
When it comes down to what you want as a tenant and what your landlord wants, things are very simple.
Tenants generally want a place to live that:
- meets their needs, i.e. number of bedrooms, garage, square footage, appliances, air conditioning, etc.;
- is in the price range that they can afford;
- is safe and habitable;
- is free from unnecessary disturbances such as noise from other tenants;
- is in the right location for work, schools, etc.
- is managed by a landlord that treats them with respect, acts professionally, and does not discriminate.
Landlords generally want a tenant that:
- will leave the unit in the same condition it was in when the tenant took possession and make no changes without the prior written consent of the landlord;
- will not create a nuisance for other tenants or the neighborhood;
- will abide by the lease agreement; including but not limited to paying rent on time;
- will keep utilities paid and in service;
- will follow other rules as provided;
- will not carryout or allow criminal activities;
- will readily inform the landlord of items that need repaired or other issues that might endanger the property.
Before we get to some of the more nitty gritty details of the landlord – tenant relationship, don’t miss checking out our list of things prospective tenants should think about before renting and the City of Grand Rapids Off-Campus brochure.
When screening for new tenants, landlords may not discriminate against prospective tenants based upon Federal, State or Local laws. Here is a summary of the classes protected by the law.
Federal law does not allow discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. State law adds two more to this list: marital status and age. Some localities may include weight, sexual preference, source of lawful income or others. However, keep in mind, this does not prevent a landlord from discriminating against those that have committed a crime, can’t afford to pay the rent, or those that have credit issues, etc.
Once you are living in your unit, a landlord may not discriminate against you or treat you differently for these same reasons.
Under Michigan law, your landlord may ask for a security deposit. The security deposit is money you give the landlord before you are given the keys to your new home. The security deposit may not be more than one and half times the monthly rental payment (e.g. $400 monthly rent payment X 1.5 = $600 maximum security deposit). The security deposit may be kept by the landlord after you move out for the following reasons:
- unpaid rent;
- to cover the cost of damages left by you, e.g. holes in walls, torn carpet, stained linoleum, broken windows, broken door handles, pest infestation, broken stairway rails, cigarette damage, damage caused by pets, excessively poor housecleaning habits that has left the unit in a condition worse than normal wear and tear, etc.;
- unpaid utilities that you were supposed to pay.
Be sure to complete the Beginning/Ending Inventory Checklist provided to you by the landlord at the time of the lease signing and return the Checklist to the landlord within seven (7) days. The Checklist notes the condition of the unit when you move in, e.g. if there is a stain on the hallway carpet when you move-in, make a note of the exact location of the stain on the Checklist.
Before moving or within 4 days of your move, it’s important to remember to give your landlord your forwarding address in writing. If you don’t do this, the landlord does not have to send you a “Notice of Damages,” which is a form that identifies how the landlord used your security deposit. Note: if the landlord uses all of your security deposit for unpaid rent, they do not have to send you a Notice of Damages.
The best way to ensure that you get your security deposit back is to treat your rental unit with care, keep the rental clean, notify your landlord when repairs are necessary, pay your rent on time, pay your utility bills, and leave the unit in the condition it was when you moved in.
There are generally two types of leases used by rental property owners or management companies:
Month to Month Lease – A month to month lease requires you to pay the rent each month or inform the landlord 30 days in advance that you will no longer be living at the unit. A landlord may also give the tenant a 30 day notice to vacate or move from the unit. Rent or other lease arrangements can also be changed with a 30-day notice. (Some leases may be even shorter, e.g. week to week.)
Six or Twelve Month Lease – Many rental property owners choose to use a lease that is six or twelve months long. A longer lease provides more stability by establishing rents and other lease terms that continue for six or twelve months. A tenant may still be evicted for non-payment of rent or for violating the lease within a shorter period of time. Tenants are required to fulfill the terms of the lease, including the payment of rent for the whole term of the lease—not just one rental period (month).
Make sure you keep a copy of your lease and lease addendums. Also, read and keep copies of any other form or document that landlord provides you, e.g. a booklet on the hazards of lead-based paint.
Your landlord may have rules regarding pets—including not allowing any type of pet. Pets are not a protected class under the law unless they are service animals that have been prescribed by a doctor, e.g. seeing-eye dogs. A landlord can stipulate what type of pet, the size of pet, the number of pets, the breed of the pet—basically anything. Sometimes a pet agreement along with a non-refundable pet fee will also be required. Extra rent is also sometimes added. Tenants should be aware that disregarding a landlord’s pet restrictions could be grounds for eviction. Make sure you check with your landlord before purchasing a pet that will reside at your unit.
How Much Rent Can You Afford?
Your prospective landlord may have guidelines requiring a certain income that they believe is necessary to pay the amount of rent for a particular unit. They may also require applicants to provide evidence that they have been employed for a certain time period and the source of their income. These guidelines are allowed.
A very simple formula is sometimes used to determine whether or not a tenant can afford to pay the rent. This formula requires the tenant (or the tenants combined incomes) to be equal to or great than three times the monthly rent. (For example: The rent is $750 per month. The tenants’ monthly take home income would have to be $2,250 per month or more.)
If you’re struggling with expenses, you may want to consider help with budgeting. You may want to contact a HUD approved budget counselor in your area. You can check online here for a list of approved counselor’s in your area.
Other Screening Guidelines
Your landlord may have long list of specific items they use to determine who to rent to. Some of these may include criminal background checks, how well you took care of your previous rental unit, your past rental payment history, how many debts your owe and/or the total amount of debt payments, past evictions, how frequently you move, etc. Most of these guidelines are used to determine your ability and reliability when it comes to paying the rent and how well you will maintain the unit.
Cost Included in Your Rent
In addition to maintaining your rental property, rental property owners have to pay property taxes, casualty insurance, and other government fees. Some utilities may also be included in the rent, e.g. water. Property taxes are higher for rental properties since rental properties are not exempt from paying the school millage. (Owner-occupied houses do not pay the school millage.) Tenants help pay for the operation of the schools through their rent payments. If the area you live in requires rental properties to be registered and/or inspected at regular intervals, the cost of these inspections and registration will also be included in your rent.
Other Things the Landlord May Ask You to Pay For
A landlord may ask you to pay for other things other than rent. For example, you may be required to get all the utilities in your own name. This could include water, gas, electric and/or garbage service. In most cases, you will also be required to pay for any damage to the unit caused by you, your family or your guest.
Limits on Rent
There are no limits on rent in the State of Michigan.
Repairs & Right of Entry
It’s just a fact: things break or wear out. From time to time you may find that you need to report to the landlord a broken item or something that has worn out with use. It is very important for you to report this to your landlord in writing as soon as possible. Even if the cause of the damage was you, a family member or a guest, the damage should be reported promptly. Repairs left unmade can cause further damage to your unit or endanger your family and may cost you additional money for repair expenses.
Most leases provide the landlord with access to your unit to make repairs or do other routine maintenance. Except in emergency situations, your landlord should provide you with at least 24 hours’ notice before entering your unit to make repairs. It is to the tenant’s advantage to allow the landlord entry to make repairs, etc. to ensure that their unit is safe and continues to remain habitable. Failing to allow entry could result in eviction.
Many cities in the state of Michigan provide that rental units must be inspected ever so many years. Under Michigan law, tenants have a right to refuse entry to municipal inspector. This right does not extend to refusing access to the landlord.
Other Non-Refundable Fees
Your landlord may also ask you to pay a non-refundable fee of some sort. The typical fees charged are a “non-refundable cleaning fee” or a “non-refundable pet fee.” You should be aware that these fees are not part of the security deposit and the landlord is not required to return them to you after you move out—regardless of the condition of the unit. Also, there is no limit on the amount of these fees.
Can I Escrow Rent?
Only a judge can order rent to be escrowed. If you withhold rent due to a repair that you believe should have been made, you may find yourself being evicted for non-payment of rent. If this happens, once you are in court, you can then provide evidence that the landlord has not maintained the rental unit in good repair and in a habitable condition. The judge may agree and order rent to be escrowed. This means that the rent must be paid into an account to be held until the repairs are made. This does not mean that rent is not paid. Once all repairs are made to the satisfaction of the judge, the landlord will then be paid the rent. (Note: It is not advisable to do something which results in an eviction case. Once an eviction case goes to court, it will be on your record and may make it very difficult for you to get a rental unit or mortgage in the future. It is always best to work with the landlord to resolve any problems.)
Communicating with Your Landlord
There may be times that you should or may want to communicate with your landlord.
If other tenants in the building are creating a nuisance such as loud parties, parking in areas not designated for parking, loitering on porches in large groups and blocking your access, storing items in common areas, etc., you should report these to the landlord. Criminal activity should be reported to the police immediately and the landlord informed about them as soon as possible during regular business hours.
Repairs that need to be made should also be reported as soon as possible to the landlord.
Utility shut-offs should be reported to the landlord immediately–except for situations of short-term power outages.
Report Criminal Activity
If you suspect criminal activity is occurring or has occurred at your rental unit or in your building, you should contact the police immediately. Call the police if you suspect drug activity, gun violence, violent threats to your person or your guest, trespassing, prostitution, loitering, disturbance of the piece, under-age drinking, parking violations, trash dumping, etc. Landlords do not have policing power. Call the police first before informing the landlord.
Additional Tenants & Guest
Most leases contain a clause that stipulates who and how many individuals can live in the rental unit.
Only persons listed on the lease and/or the rental application may live at the rental unit without prior consent of the landlord. If you would like someone new to live with you, this person must first be approved by the landlord through the screening process. Contact your landlord before the person moves in. Failing to inform your landlord of a new tenant could be a violation of your lease.
Many municipalities have regulations on the total number of individuals allowed to reside at a rental. Some of these communities limit the occupancy based upon “relationships.” For instance, the City of Grand Rapids does not allow more than four unrelated individuals to live in a rental unit. In some areas, such as Allendale, the limit is no more than one unrelated person. Check with your local municipality before offering to let someone live with you.
Overnight guest may be allowed at your unit for a few days. A lease or rule may stipulate how long persons are considered guest. Anyone remaining at the unit longer than this time period should be approved as a tenant by the landlord.
Some tenants may wish to purchase satellite dish network service for television and/or internet service. Tenants have a right to purchase and have these services installed at their unit; however, the landlord may stipulate where and how the satellite dish can be installed. You should have the installer of the dish contact the landlord several days prior to the anticipated installation to ensure that the installation is in accordance with the landlord’s guidelines, condo or association bylaws, or historic preservation regulations.
Generally speaking, parking is only allowed in designated areas or in public spaces as designated by the local municipality. Cars and other vehicles should not be parked in areas not designated by the landlord or in public no parking zones. In many urban settings, parking is very limited. No one should park cars in the yard. The landlord has the right to post a notice on parked vehicles and have them towed at the vehicle owner’s expense if there is a violation of the parking rules. A municipality may have the vehicle towed if it is in violation of local law.
In many communities, all vehicles must be licensed and able to operate in order to be parked at the property. Any other vehicles are subject to being towed. Some local zoning codes limit the number of vehicles that can be parked at a property as well. Tenants should pay particular attention to the rules outlined by the landlord regarding parking to avoid the cost and inconvenience of having a vehicle towed.
Landlord’s Right to Show Unit
A rental property owner may have an interest in selling his or her investment to another party. Often times, the interested buyer will want to inspect all the units in the building and the exterior of the property. Most leases give the landlord the right to show the unit or enter the unit with a 24 hour notice to show it to a buyer or prospective tenant. The landlord can show the exterior of the property at any time.
Reasons for Eviction
There are several reasons enabled by law for evictions. Here is a short summary:
- Non-payment of Rent (7 day notice)
- Violation of Rental Agreement (30 day notice or length of time between rental payments)
- Drug Activity (24 hour notice)
- Illegal Activities, Not Related to Drugs (30 day notice)
- Serious & Continuing Health Hazard (7 day notice)
- Injury/Damage to the Unit (7 day notice)
- Threats of Violence to the Landlord or Guest (7 day notice)
- Failure to Vacate the Premises as Indicated in Your Lease (30 day notice)
- Failure to Vacate the Premises after Tenancy has Been Discontinued (30 day notice)
- Trespassing (Immediate)
Benefits of Renting vs. Owning a Home
Lots of people find that renting is a better option than buying a home. Sometimes it is the only option. Here are some reasons to consider renting instead of buying:
- You have just entered the work force and don’t have the resources or the credit to buy a home.
- You will not be living at one location for more than four years.
- You can’t afford the cost of a mortgage payment along with all the utility payments and maintenance costs of a home. (This may be different if you choose to enter into a lease that requires you to pay for utility(s) or to do lawn maintenance or snow removal, etc.)
- You are not physically capable of maintaining a yard or home.
- You prefer to let someone else handle repairs, snow removal and lawn maintenance.
- You would like to have the flexibility of where you live and for how long.
- You are not sure where in town you might want to live or what school you prefer for your children.
- Your job situation requires you to move frequently.
- You’re attending school.
- You no longer want the responsibility of owning a home.
- You don’t have to worry about losing equity in your home or foreclosure.