How to Use Michigan’s ‘Repair and Deduct’ Policy
Step One: Call a Lawyer and Ask Them about Everything You See Here — We’re Not Lawyers, and this is Not Legal Advice!
In general, if you have a problem with your rental property that causes it to no longer meet the state’s basic health, safety, and structural standards, it’s the landlord’s job to fix it. But what if the landlord simply doesn’t?
When You Need a Repair
The first thing you should do when you realize the need for a repair is contact your landlord/property manager and communicate what is wrong, how it’s affecting your life, and ask if there are any further steps you need to take. Some will tell you to fill out a particular form or call a particular number, etc. Keep notes of when you communicated, who you communicated with, and what the response was. Preferably, send an email or some other written form of communication.
Now, you have to give the landlord reasonable time to address the issue. What is ‘reasonable time’? Well, that’s not specifically defined in Michigan law, but there are some informal guidelines that work. Michigan state law recognizes three categories of repair need:
- Emergency Repairs are those needs that threaten the health and/or safety of the tenants — gas leak, busted furnace (during the cold months), sewage flooding into the basement, and so on.
- Major Repairs are those that negatively affect the tenant’s ability to live comfortably, but not their health or safety. A broken water heater, a busted furnace (during the warm months), a clogged bathtub drain, etc.
- Minor Repairs are the needs that make life annoying, but are merely nuisances — peeling wallpaper, buzzing lights, and ants getting inside, as examples.
In general, emergency repairs need to be started within 24-72 hours, major repairs within 7 days, and minor repairs within 31 days. If you’ve waited that long, and there’s no sign of action on the manager’s part, move to the next step.
Get an Inspector
If you have reason to believe that the landlord/PM is going to try to pull one over on you, call a property inspector to come out and assess the problem. In some municipalities, you will have to pay the inspector’s fee; in others, the landlord will have to pay if the building turns out to be not up to code, and you’ll only pay if it is just fine. Ask the inspector to summarize his findings and send you a copy.
Inform the Landlord/Property Manager
The next critical step is to get in touch with your PM or landlord and tell them that you’re going to pay for the repairs yourself and deduct the cost of those repairs from the rent you’ll be paying. You don’t have to wait for a reply at this point — just put something in writing and move forward.
Get Three Reasonable Estimates
The next step is to get estimates from three well-reputed groups that can handle the repair in question. Forward all three estimates to the landlord/PM, choose the least expensive of the three options, and move forward with the repairs. Warning, if you intend to perform the repair yourself, understand that you will usually only be allowed to deduct materials, not labor — and you may be held responsible for shoddy workmanship.
Just in case the repair ends up costing more than you expected, document every expense that comes up — and get signed statements from all of the repair crews involved as to each change. Documentation is your best friend in this whole process!
Pay Rent with Repair Costs Deducted
Continue to pay your rent as normal through this process, until the repairs are complete. Once you have the final bill in hand, deduct that amount from your rent and send a copy of the bill in with your remainder (if any) and a letter explaining what you did and why.
NOTE: do your best to work with your landlord on repair issues before starting down the path of deducting repairs from your rent and get a legal opinion before doing so. Many cosmetic repairs don’t have to legally be repaired, so if you pay for them you may not legally be able to deduct them.
Hopefully, this is information you’ll never need — the vast majority of landlords will rush to make repairs the moment they understand that you intended to use the ‘Repair and Deduct’ law. But it’s nonetheless information that all Michigan tenants should know, on the off chance it becomes useful.