As a tenant, it can seem as if you have ultimately no bargaining power in the landlord-tenant relationship. There are certain rights that Michigan law affords to tenants that can be helpful if utilized correctly, however.
When a person signs a lease with a landlord to rent a dwelling the landlord has a duty to maintain the premises in a habitable condition. This duty is imposed regardless of whether it is stated in the lease itself. MCL 554.139 states that in every lease or license of a residential premises, the landlord covenants “[t]o keep the premises 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, except when the disrepair or violation of the applicable health or safety laws has been caused by the tenants wilful (sic) or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct.” This is also known as the warranty of habitability.
If a landlord does not fix certain important repairs, such as a broken furnace or the presence of mold, within a reasonable amount of time, a tenant has two options: 1) the tenant can withhold rent or 2) the tenant can use the repair and deduct method.
It is important to note that you cannot arbitrarily decide to withhold rent because a repair wasn’t made in a timely fashion. Not only must the necessary repair be related to the habitability of the premises, but the tenant must also take certain steps before withholding rent. When a maintenance problem occurs, a tenant should take the following steps:
- The tenant must decide who is responsible for the repair.
- This is determined by the nature of the repair itself and whether the landlord’s duty has been eliminated by the tenant’s action or by mutual agreement between the parties.
- If the landlord is, in fact, responsible for the repair, the tenant must notify the landlord of the necessary repair and give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to repair it.
- It is important to keep a record of all communications. If the tenant simply called their landlord to inform them of a necessary repair, that request should be followed up with a letter.
- The problem is that “reasonable time” is not defined by law and, thus, a determination of whether the landlord was actually given a reasonable amount of time would be determined by a judge or jury, if the issue makes its way to court.
- If the landlord does not make the requested repairs in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant must then decide if the requested repair qualifies for rent withholding or the repair-and-deduct method.
- Some repairs are considered minor, such as defective lighting, peeling wallpaper, dripping faucets, etc. These would not qualify for rent withholding or the repair-and-deduct method.
- Other types of repairs are considered major and affect the quality of the residential environment, such as a broken water heater, broken furnace, clogged drain, etc. These types of repairs would qualify for rent withholding or repairing and deducting.
- If the repair is considered major the tenant must then decide whether they are going to withhold rent or whether they are going to hire a third party to make the repair and then deduct that cost from their rent.
- If the tenant chooses to withhold rent:
- The tenant must notify their landlord in writing (via certified mail) that they will be withholding rent—including the reasons why they are withholding rent—and that rent payments will be deposited into an escrow account at (name of financial institution). Further, they must state that payment will be released once the repairs have been made.
- The tenant must set up an escrow account in their name at a local banking institution of their choice that the withheld rent will be deposited into.
- If the tenant chooses the repair-and-deduct method, the tenant should:
- Obtain three estimates for the repair.
- Send the estimates to the landlord stating that they will have the repairs made if the landlord does not make the necessary repairs by a particular date and that they will be deducting the costs of the repair(s) from their next rent payment.
- Keep a record of all receipts, notes, and the date of repair.
- Send copies to the landlord along with the remaining portion of the rent.
- If the tenant chooses to withhold rent:
If you are having a maintenance issue and are wondering whether the necessary repair is considered major, reach out to our attorneys at Grewal Law PLLC. We would be happy to discuss if the necessary repair is considered major and what your next steps should be.
Call (888) 211-5798 or contact Grewal Law PLLC online today for a free consultation.