(Based on Public Act Number 42 of 1917)
Maintenance problems range from things that are merely annoying to things that pose an immediate threat to health and safety. However, it should be noted that both landlord and tenant have some maintenance responsibilities. A tenant is generally expected to pay rent on time, keep the rented premises in a safe and sanitary condition, promptly notify the landlord of maintenance problems, exterminate insects that appear if they were not there when the tenant moved in, and leave the rented premises in good condition (normal wear and tear excepted). These responsibilities can be modified in certain instances, as noted above, by mutual agreement of the landlord and the tenant.
Types of Maintenance Problems
There are three types of maintenance problems
- Emergencies: Emergencies are situations that require action within 24 hours and pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the household. Examples include leaking gas, flooding, major roof damage, or a defective furnace.
- Major Problems: Major problems are problems that affect the quality of the residential environment, but not to the degree that the life of the occupant is immediately endangered. Examples are a defective water heater, clogged drain, or heating problems in part of a house.
- Minor Problems: Minor problems fall into the nuisance category and include defective lighting, locks, faucets, household pests, and peeling paint.
Steps to Solve a Maintenance Problem
In solving these or any maintenance problem, the first step is to talk to your landlord. Explain the situation, the importance of its repair, and when you would like it done. The state and cities have enacted housing codes to protect the rights of both landlords and tenants. Each city has its own specific codes which may be checked by going to your local city hall.
The second step is to write a letter to the landlord about the problem and mention the previous talk, and that you will take action if there are any more delays. Have it certified and keep a copy. It is important to keep track of all your phone calls and conversations with your landlord or a building inspector. You may want to have a building inspector sent to your home for inspection, if so--note the date.
The third step should be to take action only after (1) you have documented the problems; (2) you've given the landlord time to repair; and (3) the landlord has failed to act. Keep any receipts and note the dates of all conversations regarding the problems. Keep all broken parts and if you feel it's necessary, call the building inspector to come out. Withholding your rent is a right under Michigan law when the landlord fails to maintain your home. Put the money into a separate savings account, depositing it with a check including a memo of purpose for your records. This should be done before rent is due. Then send a letter to your landlord when rent is due stating why you are withholding rent and that you will release the amount when the maintenance problems have been corrected. Again, this letter should be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested and a copy kept.
Your next option is to pay for repairs yourself and then deduct the cost from your rent. The money may even be drawn from the savings account. Before you allow any repair work to be done, call at least three companies for estimates (if a do-it-yourself job, go to three stores for prices of parts). Reputable firms will come to your home and give you a free written estimate. Then mail these estimates to your landlord stating you will pay for the repairs out of your withheld rent. Set a date for the landlord to fix the problem. Then state that you will have the problem taken care of if he does not act by this time. Again, make a copy of all letters and estimates for your records.
The last step is to hire the lowest bidder and pay for the work yourself if the landlord still does not respond. Send the landlord a copy of the receipt along with a letter stating that you are deducting the amount from your rent or that you used withheld rent to pay for repairs. Then wait for the landlord's response.
The landlord may try and have you evicted. Your defense in an eviction is that your landlord has not lived up to the legal duty to keep your home in good shape. Make sure you can prove it. Your landlord has mortgages, taxes, and bills to pay; by using the options listed above, you can put pressure on the landlord to negotiate. Keep in mind that evictions take your landlord's time (at least 3 weeks) and money, while the landlord's bills keep piling up. If you document carefully, you have a good chance of winning an eviction.
A maintenance agreement is a timetable for your landlord to make repairs. Be sure that it is in writing, that you and your landlord have signed and dated it, and that you have a copy. Before you sit down to talk with your landlord, you should think about how long you will wait for repairs, and whether to release rent (if you are withholding) after the repairs are made. A problem that can occur regarding repairs is that both parties will become so irritated at each other that after the dispute is resolved, it is impossible for them to continue to discharge lease obligations without expressing considerable hostility toward each other. If the repair problems become too critical, it is entirely possible that the eviction process, lawsuits, counter lawsuits, and vindictive incidents could occur. Both parties should remember that in many landlord/tenant disputes the basic issues become obscured by personal disagreements that develop and continue to grow and fester. Unless both parties understand and remember that the purpose of the lease is to record the mutual agreement and that there is a direct relationship between rights and responsibilities, the lease is doomed to failure. Substituting petty arguments for a basic desire to make a lease work is the surest way to an unhappy situation that can result in legal disagreements, unnecessary financial expenses, and an unpleasant experience for all.