Tenants should understand their rights when renting properties

This letter is in response to several incorrect statements in an article published in The State News Housing Guide, titled Damages charges can be prevented, minimized (SN 2/23). It is true that tenants have an obligation to not cause damages to a rental unit before terminating the tenancy. A security deposit is a form of an insurance policy that provides some recourse for a landlord if a tenant causes damage to a unit. However, many tenants are unfamiliar with their legal rights. Consequently, a few points need to be clarified.

The article incorrectly states that a security deposit can be used to cover damages relating to the “wear and tear of an apartment.” According to Michigan statute, a security deposit can be used for actual damages that are the “direct result of conduct not reasonably expected in the normal course of habitation of a dwelling.” A landlord cannot use a security deposit to cover “wear and tear.” Furniture, appliances and carpet wear out after a while just from being used. So, a tenant should not be responsible for paying to replace living room carpet that has become worn due to normal traffic. The same tenant, however, could be responsible for paying to replace the carpet if it is torn or stained with paint, for example. Tenants should be aware that landlords cannot apply their security deposits to normal “wear and tear” as indicated in the article.

The article also states, “If a resident has a question about any damages before they move out they can schedule a walk through with a manager or even request to see what the damages would cost them.” The author of the article fails to follow up with the fact that the security deposit belongs to the tenant. According to Michigan law, generally speaking, the landlord is required to return the deposit, or send a list of the claimed damages and the deposit balance, within 30 days of the termination of tenancy. The tenant does not have to request anything; the landlord is statutorily required to follow this procedure. Failure of the landlord to comply constitutes an acceptance by the landlord that there are no damages. The landlord therefore surrenders any right to keep the tenant’s security deposit. Tenants should be aware that landlords have this obligation.

The article perpetuates a lack of education in the landlord-tenant relationship by not clarifying that tenants have legal rights. It is important to become familiar with the obligations of both parties imposed by Michigan statutes. Fortunately, there are resources. For instance, the MSU College of Law Rental Housing Clinic is dedicated to educating members of the community and providing legal services in landlord-tenant disputes. Student clinicians provide a free service that should not be overlooked by injured parties. Resident student clinicians educated in rental housing law can be contacted at (517) 336-8088, ext. 20, or at rent@law.msu.edu.

Jerry Bowman,
2L student clinician
MSU COL Rental Housing Clinic
second-year law student

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