Eviction, Illegal Eviction and Utility Access

Eviction is the legal process of removing a person from rental property. The landlord must use the court system in order to evict a tenant.


A landlord can evict a tenant if:

  1. A tenant fails to pay rent.

  2. A tenant’s use of the property causes a serious continuing health hazard, causes an extensive and continuing physical injury to the property, involves illegal activities or violates the terms of the rental agreement.

  3. A tenant does not move out after the lease is terminated.

(The above does not include all reasons for eviction.)

A landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for the tenant exercising any legal rights against the landlord.

To evict a tenant, a landlord must file the following notarized documents with the Court that has jurisdiction over the rental premises:

  • Notice to Quit

  • Complaint 

  • Summons

NOTICE TO QUIT 

A Notice to Quit, the first step in the eviction process, is the written notice to a tenant stating the landlord’s desire to evict.

A Notice to Quit will be used to terminate a tenant’s rights under either a written or oral lease.

The reason for the Notice to Quit determines the number of days that a landlord must give notice to a tenant prior to taking action (filing a complaint and summons).

Reason for Notice To Quit
Minimum Length of Notice To Quit
Nonpayment of Rent
7 Days
Health Hazard
Injury to the Premises
7 Days after "injury"
Termination of Lease
Number of days equal to the interval between rent payments

The time begins on the day the tenant receives the Notice to Quit (when the Notice is served on the tenant).

Respond promptly to a Notice to Quit by calling the landlord to discuss and settle the matter or obtain legal assistance.

After the required notice period, file a complaint with the district court, whereupon the court shall deliver or mail to the tenant (defendant) a summons to appear before the court on a certain date.

If the tenant wins at the court hearing, the tenancy continues. If the tenant loses, the tenant loses ten days to pay the past due rent, settle the dispute, or vacate the premises.

After ten days (or by the date set by the court), if the tenant has not vacated, a writ of restitution is issued by the court commanding the sheriff or other authorized court officer to serve the process and restore the landlord (plaintiff) to full possession  of the premises.

ILLEGAL EVICTION

A landlord must always go to court to have a tenant evicted. A landlord also cannot harass or try to make a tenant move out by doing any of the following:

  • Using force or threatening to use force.

  • Removing, withholding or destroying personal property of the tenant.

  • Changing, altering or adding locks or security devices to the rental premises.

  • Boarding up the premises which prevents or makes entry difficult.

  • Removing doors, windows or locks.

  • Causing the shut-off or interruption of water, electric or gas service.

  • Causing loud noises, a bad odor or other nuisance.

  • Putting the tenant’s belongings out in the street.

If a tenant is forcibly removed from or kept out of rental property by force, the tenant may sue the landlord. If the tenant prevails, the tenant is entitled to recover three times the amount of damages or $200.00, whichever is greater. Damage to the tenant can include the cost of staying at a motel, as well as actual physical damage to the tenant or his belongings. 

UTILITY ACCESS

Utility services are necessary to everyone’s basic essential needs. Utilities include electricity, gas and water. Usually, tenants put the utility in their own name and are billed directly. However, some landlords choose to keep the utilities in their own name and charge the tenant the amount of the bill or pass the cost onto the tenant by including it in the rent.

If Tenant Utilities are Shutoff:

  • Contact the utility immediately.

  • Determine the reason for the shutoff. 

  • Determine who is responsible for the shutoff – the landlord or utility company.

When Shutoff is Caused By Landlord:

If the utility is in the landlord’s name, the landlord cannot shutoff the service to harass or evict the tenant even when the tenant is behind in making rental payments. If the landlord deliberately causes the utility to be shutoff, there are two options:

  • Ask the utility company to restore service in the tenant’s name, or 

  • Ask the utility company to restore service in the landlord’s name because the landlord illegally had the service turned off.

If the service is shutoff because the landlord has not paid the bill, the utility may be able to be turned on in the tenant’s name.


When Shutoff is Caused By Tenant's Failure to Pay Utility Bills:

The utility company cannot force a tenant to pay the past-due bill of a prior tenant or to pay a deposit if the tenant has a good credit rating with the company. (This applies only to residential gas and electric.) If either the amount of the bill or the reason for the shutoff is in dispute:

First call the utility company to work out the dispute. 

If the dispute is not resolved, contact the Michigan Department of Human Services by calling 1-800-297-5650 or online at the MI DHS website  The DHS will determine if the utility followed the law in shutting off service and can also answer other utility service questions.

Tenant Difficulty Paying Utility Bills:

Eligible low-income consumers can receive help in paying their heating and electric bills through the new Home Heating Credit program. More information on this program can be found in a brochure on the new program or through the Energy Assistance Program website. Also available online is the printable application.

Contact your local utility company if you have further questions regarding heating cost assistance.

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 Legal Aid and Defender of Detroit.