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Landlords & Tenants: The Deadly Consequences of Self Help Eviction

What is Self-Help?

A self-help eviction is where a landlord takes actions to evict a tenant without first obtaining a court order allowing the eviction.  Examples of self-help eviction include changing locks, removing a tenant’s possessions, and boarding up the premises.  Self-help is prohibited under Michigan law and a landlord engaging in self-help evictions can be sued for wrongful eviction.  MCL 600.2918(1)-(2) and Deroshia v Union Terminal Piers, 151 Mich App 715 (1986).

Self-help evictions are not only illegal, not following the proper eviction steps may even prove deadly.  The Detroit Free Press highlighted the dangers this past Thanksgiving when two people were shot and killed during a self-help residential eviction that violently escalated.  While that story arose out of Detroit, evictions are common throughout all areas of the state, including Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City.  The tragic eviction in Detroit is a warning that following proper procedures should be your top priority.

Michigan requires an eviction must be pursued through a court process known as a Summary Proceeding. A Summary Proceeding is designed to peacefully and diligently restore possession of property to its lawful owner.  There are several reasons for pursuing a Summary Proceeding, including:

•    Nonpayment of Rent;
•    Unlawful Drug Activity;
•    Holdover Tenants; and
•    Squatters or Trespassers.

As a majority of eviction cases are nonpayment of rent actions or termination of tenancy actions, this article will focus on these two types of actions.

Step 1: Where to Begin?

The first step in a summary proceeding is to determine what you as a landlord want to achieve: a) get the tenant to pay the past due rent or b) get the tenant out of the property.

A. Nonpayment of Rent Actions
If you are simply looking to prompt a tenant to either pay rent or vacate the premises, then you may wish to pursue a nonpayment of rent action.  A nonpayment of rent action allows a tenant to prevent the eviction by paying the past due rental payments.  To start a nonpayment of rent action, a Demand for Possession must be served on the tenant.  This notice is also known as a 7-Day Notice because it gives the tenant seven days to either pay the past due rent or move out of the property.  A copy of a 7-Day Notice can be found here. If the tenant fails to pay the rent or move out by the end of the 7th day, a landlord can file a Complaint for Possession requesting the court evict the tenant.

B. Termination of Tenancy Actions
If your goal is to get the tenant out of the property, then you may wish to pursue a termination of tenancy action against the tenant.  In a termination of tenancy action, a tenant cannot prevent an eviction merely by paying the past due rent.  To start a termination of tenancy action, a Notice to Quit to Recover Possession of Property must be served on the tenant designating the time in which the tenant must vacate the property.  This is commonly referred to as a 30-Day Notice because a landlord must give notice equivalent to at least one month’s notice; however this time may be longer if payments cover periods greater than one month. A copy of a 30-Day Notice can be found here. If the tenant fails to move out by the end of the 30th day, a landlord can file a Complaint for Possession requesting the court evict the tenant.

Step 2: Going to Court.
Following expiration of the applicable notice period, the landlord can then file a Complaint for Possession.  At this point you should consider consulting with or obtaining the assistance of legal counsel to pursue the eviction.  See below for further information.  If the Court determines that the you are entitled to possession and the tenant still has not move out by a certain time, a Writ of Restitution, more commonly referred to as an Order of Eviction, is issued by the Court.  A police officer or court officer then serves the Order of Eviction and supervises the eviction to ensure peaceful return of the property and the safety of all parties involved.

As seen by the tragic events in Detroit, not following the Summary Proceedings process can have deadly consequences.  It is important you know what to expect and prepare for when considering an eviction.  We at Shinners & Cook have assisted our clients with evictions in both residential and commercial settings.  Our knowledgeable attorneys can help guide you through the process from start to finish.