The only legal eviction is a court ordered eviction. If a landlord forces a tenant out through any other means, the eviction is illegal and the tenant is entitled to damages and repossession of the property. Only someone from the county sheriff's department, or in rare cases a specially authorized police officer, may legally remove evicted tenants from their home. That person must have a court eviction order, called a writ of restitution.

There are three legal bases on which landlords can evict tenants:

    1. non-payment of rent

    2. creating a health hazard

    3. termination of a tenancy (usually requires a 30-day notice)

Landlords must use different "Notices to Quit" for each type of eviction. A Notice to Quit must be issued before the legal eviction procedure can begin.

The Notice to Quit

A Notice to Quit is a legal document that a landlord or agent must give tenants when she or he wants them to pay or move. It indicates when and why the landlord wants the tenants to move. In some cases, landlords use these notices to intimidate tenants. If you receive a Notice to Quit, it does not mean you have to move at the time specified on the notice. This is merely the first step before the landlord can begin the legal eviction procedure. You will still have an opportunity to negotiate or go to court to defend yourself. It also does not mean that the landlord has to follow through with the eviction. If the landlord accepts all the rent that is due, or rent for future months, after the tenant received the notice, the notice becomes void.

Notices to Quit come in three forms:

    1. Seven day non-payment of rent This type is used if the landlord is claiming you owe rent. The notice tells you how much you owe and says that you have seven days to either pay, move, or face possible eviction procedures.

    2. 30 day termination of tenancy This is used to end a month-to-month tenancy or to assert that the tenant committed a major breach of the lease.

    3. Seven day health hazard These are extremely rare, used only if the landlord is evicting you by claiming you are causing a health hazard or are doing serious physical damage to the property.

Landlord "Self-Help" Evictions

It is illegal for a landlord to attempt self-help measures to get you out, such as

    • changing the locks

    • shutting off utilities

    • actually moving your possessions out.

A landlord may be held liable for any damages you incur under the state Lock Out Law.  The Lock Out Law states that if a tenant is illegally forced out of all or a portion of her or his home, due to a landlord's acts or failure to act, she or he is entitled to damages for each occurrence. The tenant may be entitled to $200 or three times the amount of the actual damages, whichever is greater, as well as possession of the unit. The only way a tenant can legally be forced out of her or his home is through a court order, or if the city condemns the property.

Eviction for Non-Payment of Rent

The eviction process for non-payment of rent begins when you receive a seven-day "Notice to Quit", demanding that you either pay the rent claimed due or vacate the premises within seven days. After a seven-day notice has been issued, the landlord is supposed to accept rent if a tenant offers it, making the notice void.

Although these notices do not explicitly state it, tenants may also ignore the notice and wait to be sued for eviction. If tenants do nothing in response to the notice, after seven days the landlord may request that the court issue a "Summons and Complaint". These two documents will be delivered to the tenant at the same time through the mail or served in person by a court officer.

For more information, view our resource on Evictions for Nonpayment of Rent.

The Court Process

The "Summons"

The Summons indicates the date, time and location of your court hearing. Never ignore a summons.

The "Complaint"

The Complaint states why the landlord wants to evict and whether she or he wants the tenant to move, pay money, or both.

The Initial Hearing

On the initial court date, either the tenant or their attorney must appear. Tenants who do not know how to defend a case and have no lawyer may request a time extension at the first court appearance. They may ask for up to two weeks; the judge will probably grant one. This does not mean that the tenant has to show up the next time with a lawyer, but rather that they wanted to talk to one. If a tenant does not appear at the first court hearing or have an attorney appear, the tenant will lose regardless of their defense. The landlord will receive a default judgment against the tenant.

Tenants may request a jury trial when they appear in court. Even if a tenant settles, she or he will probably settle better having asked for a jury trial. Tenants must pay a fee for a jury the same day that they make the request. Always keep the receipt from the court as proof that you paid the fee. The judge may waive the jury fee for low-income tenants, if requested.

The Pre-Trial

The next step is the pre-trial, where both sides present their arguments, and the judge sets a trial date. Following that is the actual trial, where both sides may present their evidence, documentation, and witnesses.

The "Answer, Defense and Counter-Claim"

This is how tenants (or their lawyers) present their side of the story. It is the written answer (or response) to the landlord's complaint. It should raise defenses against the eviction and any complaints the tenants have against the landlord (e.g. poor conditions, landlord retaliation, discrimination, or violation of the Consumer Protection Act or the Truth in Renting Act). Even if tenants are behind in rent, they may still be able to make a counterclaim against the landlord. 

How Long Will An Eviction Take?

It can take a minimum of four to six weeks to go through an eviction procedure, from the date the tenant receives the Notice to Quit to the day the sheriff actually knocks on the tenant's door to physically evict. Here is how that time was calculated:

Any time after the Seven Day Notice to Quit expires, the landlord can file for a court date. The date of the first court hearing will be from four to eight days after the landlord files. (seven days plus four days = 11 days)

At the initial court appearance, the tenant may ask for a one to two week adjournment and a jury trial, as described above. (seven days)

After an initial adjournment, the next court date will be for a pre-trial hearing, usually one to two weeks later. (seven days)

The judge may hold the trial at the same time as the pre-trial, or set a new trial date for whenever there is room on the court schedule. (The tenant may settle a case with the landlord at any time.) (possibly seven days)

If the judge eventually orders the tenant to move due to non-payment of rent, the tenant will still have ten days to either pay the rent (plus court costs) or move. (ten days)

After that time, the court can issue a "Writ of Restitution" and the sheriff may come and physically remove the tenant and their property from the unit. The landlord cannot do this without a writ, and then only with a sheriff present.

TOTAL TIME: 42 days if the judge grants all the extensions and schedules the trial one week after the pre-trial.

When to Retain An Attorney?

Tenants do not need to be represented by an attorney at a court hearing for eviction. In many situations, having an attorney is advisable, especially if there are many disputed issues that need to be resolved at a trial, but with the proper information, you may be able to handle your own case.

For More Information on Eviction:

View our resources on Evictions for Termination of Tenancy, Evictions for Nonpayment of Rent, Eviction, Illegal Eviction, and Utility Access, and Surviving Eviction.

To learn more about housing rights in Michigan and where to get help:

  • Consult the Michigantenants.org website for local housing resources and tenant counseling services.

  • Consult the Michiganlegalaid.org website for legal education articles and local service information.

If you received court papers or otherwise need free or low cost legal advice:

This article appears courtesy of the Michigan Tenants Counseling Program.