Most landlords in the state of Michigan require their tenants to sign a lease before they can move in. A lease first must aheresto the Fair Housing Act making it legally binding and holding both parties liable to the lease terms for a certain period of time that’s usually a year.
At the very least, this means that a tenant must continue paying rent for the entire period the lease will be active, regardless of whether or not they live there. Things like evictions or breaking a lease, however, can be a wild card.
Now, learning that your tenant has broken their lease can be heartbreaking. After all, finding a new tenant can be a lengthy, difficult, and costly process. That being said, life happens. And your tenant, despite their good intentions to rent your property for the entire lease term, may need to move out.
Normally, breaking a lease brings some financial and legal repercussions to the tenant; a lease agreement is a legally binding document. So, what should you do if your Michigan tenant breaks their lease? Well, here’s everything you need to know!
Lease Termination Notice Requirements
First and foremost, landlords in Michigan have a right to be notified by a tenant looking to move out. The exact notice period depends on the type of agreement in operation.
If operating a week-to-week lease, your tenant must give you notice of at least 7 days before moving out. (§§ 554.134(1)). If operating a month-to-month lease, your tenant has an obligation to provide you notice of at least 30 days (§§ 554.134(1)). And, if you’re operating a yearly lease with no end date, then your tenant must provide you a one-year notice (§§ 554.134(3)).
Moving out without providing such notices will amount to a violation of the agreement. And, as a landlord, you may be able to take both legal and/or financial action against that tenant. You may, for instance, cut some of your losses by withholding their security deposit.
That being said, no two situations are ever the same. In some instances, your tenant may be able to break their lease legally. In those situations, all a tenant may need to do in order to terminate their lease is to provide you adequate notice beforehand.
When Breaking a Lease Agreement is Legally Justified in Michigan
Under Michigan's landlord-tenant law, the following are situations where a tenant may be off the hook for paying all rent due under the lease:
1. Your Lease Contains an Early Termination Clause
Some landlords include clauses in their lease agreements that would allow their tenants to break their lease early. In exchange, landlords require such tenants to pay a penalty fee. This is usually equivalent to the rent of 2 months. Generally, landlords use the fee to find a replacement tenant.
In addition, landlords with this clause in their agreement also require tenants to provide them adequate notice. 30 days is typical.
2. The Tenant is Beginning Active Military Duty
Active service members who have been relocated due to military deployment or permanent change of station are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The protection begins on the day they enter active duty and ends anywhere between 30 and 90 days after being discharged.
In Michigan, servicemembers are considered to be members of either the armed forces, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the National Guard.
A tenant must meet the following requirements, as per the act. They must:
- Prove that they signed the lease before entering active duty
- Prove they intend on staying on active duty for at least the following 90 days
- Provide you a 30-days notice, as well as attach the deployment letters
3. The Unit Is No Longer Habitable
Every state requires that landlords meet certain basic habitability codes. The state of Michigan is no different.
If you fail to meet those standards within a reasonable period after being notified, a court would consider your tenant to be “constructively evicted.” As a result, all their responsibilities under the lease would cease to exist.
At the very least, an implied warranty of habitability means that you have provided your tenant with the following:
- Clean drinking water
- Heat during the cold season
- Functioning electrical and plumbing systems
- Functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- An adequate ventilating system
- Reasonable property security
4. You’re Harassing Your Tenant
Your tenant may also move out if your actions are found to be serious enough to be considered landlord harassment. Landlord harassment is actions meant to disrupt a tenant’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their rental unit.
The following are some examples of landlord harassment:
- Entering your tenant’s unit repeatedly without serving them proper notice. In Michigan, there is no statute on landlord entry. However, you cannot barge in as you like. Most landlords will give their tenants a notice of at least 24 hours prior to entry
- Refusing to make repairs. As already mentioned, landlords have a responsibility to ensure their properties meet certain habitability standards. So, if you refuse to make a requested repair, your tenant can, among other things, sue you for landlord harassment
- Shutting off utilities. This also violates the Michigan warranty of habitability. Shutting off utilities means denying your tenants the right to basic necessities
5. Your Tenant Is a Victim of Domestic Violence
Many states, including the state of Michigan, protect tenants who are domestic violence victims. Three statutes exist in this regard: proof of status, early termination rights, and notification of rights.
6. Your Tenant or One of Their Dependents Faces a Serious Health Issue
Your tenant may also be able to walk away from the lease without any liability if they or those depending on them face a serious health issue. (§ 554.601a).
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant
As a landlord in Michigan, you have a responsibility to “mitigate damages.” (Fox v. Roethlisberger, 85 N.W.2d 73 (Mich. 1957)). So, no matter the reason for your tenant to leave, you must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit.
There you have it! The basics of breaking a lease in Michigan. As you can see, there are many nuances to lease-breaking, and it sometimes can be hard for landlords to remember all of it.
If you need help with property laws involved in renting out your house or any aspect of property management, reach out to Nelson Property Management today! We’d be happy to help with our professional services.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t intended to be used as a replacement for legal advice from a licensed attorney. Laws change, and they might not be updated at the time of your reading. Get in touch with a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company like us directly if you need further help.