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Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
When you rent your residence, you are a tenant. As a tenant, you have the right to live in the home but you also have responsibilities, such as paying rent. This article gives an overview of the various rights and responsibilities you have as a residential tenant.
Before You Rent
When you’re looking for a home to rent, you should know more than how many bedrooms it has and whether pets are allowed. You have a right to know what fees and costs you’ll be expected to pay before you sign a lease. You need to know if you can afford to move into the home and live there.
Here are some questions to ask to make sure you can afford to live in the home:
How long is the lease? If it’s not for a term that works for you, ask if that’s negotiable.
How much is rent?
Is there an application fee? Is there a fee for running a credit check before you can move in?
Is there a deposit to hold the rental property before you sign a lease or before you move in? If so, how much is the deposit? What happens to it when you move in? How could you lose that deposit?
Is there a security deposit? If so, how much is it? How could you lose your security deposit?
Are there other fees you have to pay before you move in?
What utilities are included in the rent? What utilities are you expected to pay?
Look before You Lease
Always look at both the inside and outside of the home you want to rent. To check into the condition of the building you can:
Ask the local building department whether the building or unit has been cited for violations
Ask any other tenants in the building if they’ve had problems
Search the internet to find information about the landlord or the building (but remember the internet isn’t always reliable)
Make sure any problems with the home or property are fixed before you sign a lease. If the problems can’t be fixed before you sign the lease, ask the landlord to promise in writing that they’ll be fixed before you move into the home. If the landlord won’t agree to such a promise, that might be a hint that the landlord is going to be difficult to deal with. Maybe you should consider renting a different home.
Read before You Sign
After you find a rental home that meets your needs and that you can afford, you will probably be asked to sign a lease. Signing a written lease is important for both you and your landlord. It outlines what’s expected of you while you live in the home. It also tells you what you can expect from your landlord while you live in the home.
Read your lease before you sign it. Read any rules or policies your lease refers to.
If you don’t understand something in the lease, ask your landlord.
There are several types of clauses that are not allowed in leases in Michigan. If one is in your lease, your landlord will not be able to enforce it. For more information read the article Prohibited Lease Clauses (Coming Soon).
Know Your Civil Rights
A landlord cannot use illegal discriminatory reasons to refuse to rent to you, falsely inform you that there are no rentals available, ask for higher payments, refuse to make accommodations for your disability, or evict you.
Illegal discriminatory reasons include your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, marital status, or age. If you’ve been denied housing for one of those reasons, you have the right to sue your landlord in court or to report your landlord to your local U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office.
In some cities, landlords can’t refuse you housing based on pregnancy, receipt of public benefits, your sexual orientation, political orientation, HIV status, or use of adaptive devices or aids (such as wheelchairs).
If you think you’ve been discriminated against, contact a Fair Housing Center in your area for more information. The four centers in Michigan are the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan, the Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, and the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.
Before You Move In
Before you move into your rental home, make sure you know what condition it’s in. If you have to pay a security deposit, your landlord should give you a move-in checklist. If you don’t have to pay a security deposit, you can ask for a checklist anyway, or make your own list of any problems in the home.
With the checklist in hand, go through your home room-by-room and write down anything that is damaged. This includes little things, like chips in the paint or cracks in a window. Take pictures or video of any damage you find. Sign and date the list. Ask your landlord to sign and date it too. Make a copy of it. Give one copy to your landlord. Keep one copy for yourself.
See the article Your Security Deposit: What it is and How to get it back for information about protecting your deposit.
During Your Lease
You have the right to live in a home that is in good, habitable condition. Your landlord must make needed repairs in a reasonable time after being made aware of them. If you need something fixed in your home, let your landlord know about the problem as soon as possible. Ask that it be fixed in a certain amount of time. To write your landlord a letter asking for a repair, see the interview for drafting a Letter to Landlord Requesting Repairs.
If you have a lease that is longer than one year, you may have waived this right. If you’re not sure, read your lease.
If your landlord doesn’t respond to your request for repairs, you may either withhold rent to an escrow account or pay for the repairs yourself and deduct the amount paid from your rent.
If you put rent in an escrow account, it should be a separate account at a bank with only your rent funds in it. Let your landlord know in writing that you’re putting the rent in escrow. If you paid to repair the problem, keep all receipts to show your landlord exactly how much the repairs cost. Putting your rent into an escrow account might lead your landlord to start an eviction case against you, so keeping records is important.
You have the right to quiet enjoyment of your home. This means your landlord can’t do anything that prevents you from having access to your home. Your landlord must not:
Use force or threaten to use force to make you leave or keep you out of your home
Enter your home without your permission, unless it’s an emergency
Remove, withhold or destroy your property
Change, alter or add locks or security devices to the home without your permission
Board up the premises to prevent entry or make it more difficult
Cause interruption or shut-off of essential services, such as water, electricity, or gas
Cause loud noises, bad odors, or other nuisances
Your landlord can’t enter your home without permission except in an emergency. If there is a problem that your landlord needs to enter your home to fix, you should be given notice a reasonable time before the landlord plans to enter. If there’s an emergency problem, like an urgent leak or a condition that’s hazardous to neighbors, your landlord is allowed to enter without giving you notice.
You are responsible for keeping your home in decent condition. Avoid damaging your home. You will be responsible for paying to repair damage you cause. Keep the home clean, respect your neighbors and pay your rent and utility bills. Make sure you get receipts for all rent and bills you pay, especially if you are paying in cash.
Check your lease to see if you need to get permission from your landlord before you paint your home or make similar changes.
Obey the terms of your lease. If your lease prohibits smoking or pets, don’t smoke or keep pets on the property. A lease can restrict your behavior in many ways. If you break the terms of your lease, your landlord may have the right to evict you.
See the article Eviction: What is it and How Does it Start? to learn more about evictions.
Sharing your lease
If you have roommates or other tenants on the lease with you, you are each jointly and solely responsible for the commitments in the lease. This means both or all of you are responsible for the entire amount of the rent. You and your roommate will both be evicted even if you pay your share and your roommate doesn’t. You’re also both responsible if one of you violates the lease or causes damage to the home.
Changing your lease
You and your landlord can change the terms of your lease any time if you both agree. Any changes should be in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.
Sometimes your landlord can change the terms of the lease even if you don’t agree. Your landlord can only change your lease without you agreement if it’s to:
Follow a new law
Meet a health and safety concern
Raise rent to meet a raise in property taxes, utilities, or property insurance
Your landlord must give you written notice of these changes at least 30 days before they go into effect.
Your landlord could also sell the property while you are leasing it. The new landlord will have to abide by the terms of the lease you have with the old landlord until the lease ends. Any security deposit will be transferred from the old landlord to the new one. The landlord might also return it to you and you'll have to pay a deposit to the new landlord.
Extending Your Lease
After your lease ends, and if you and your landlord agree, you can choose to keep living in the home. You can do this by negotiating a new lease or by becoming a month-to-month tenant. Some leases have a section that addresses renewing the lease. Renewal could be automatic if you don’t do something to tell your landlord you’re planning to move when the lease ends.
When You Move Out
Before your lease ends
If you need to move out before the end of your lease, you are responsible for paying rent for the rest of the term of the lease. You can ask your landlord if you can end your lease early without paying the rest but don’t assume you’ll be excused from paying. If you move out before the end of the lease, your landlord should try to find someone else to rent the property. If your landlord can’t find someone else to rent the property, you may have to pay the rest of the rent.
If your landlord refuses to let you out of the lease early, you might consider subleasing your home if this is allowed by your lease. Subleasing is renting your rented home to another tenant. The sub-tenant pays rent to you.
A sublease does not change your responsibilities to your landlord. You remain responsible for paying any rent your sub-tenant does not. You are also still responsible for damage to the property including damage caused by your sub-tenant.
Check your lease to see if there are any restrictions on subleasing. Some leases do not allow it. Others require landlord approval of any sub-tenants. If you are considering a sublease, check your lease agreement to see what is required and get information about the rules of subleases from an attorney or from a legal aid organization. See the Find a Lawyer or the Community Organizations section of this page for a list of places that may be able to help.
If you break your lease because of domestic violence
If you fear domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, you might be able to break your lease to move to a safe location without having to pay the rent through the end of your lease. Read the article Breaking a Lease in Domestic Violence Situations for more information.
At the end of your lease
When you move out, use a copy of your move-in checklist to make sure you’re leaving everything as you found it. Look for any damage that is not on your move-in checklist. If there is any, your landlord might hold you responsible for repairing it. If you can easily fix or clean any damage that you caused, doing so can help you get your security deposit back and avoid claims for damages.
If possible, walk through the empty home with your move-out checklist and your landlord. Both of you can sign the move-out checklist and you should each get a copy of it.
Return your keys to your landlord as soon as you finish walking through the home and ask for a receipt for them. Check your lease to see if there is any specific way that your landlord would like the keys returned.
After you have moved, you will still want to receive mail. You can make arrangements with the post office to forward your mail before you have moved to avoid any interruptions. You should also give your landlord your forwarding address within four days of moving out. This is important to make sure that you get your security deposit back.
For more information about getting your security deposit back, see the Security Deposits Toolkit.