Maintenance Requirements

M.C.L.A. 554.139; M.S.A. 26.1109

Division Of Student Affairs; Western Michigan University

Landlords and tenants, both, have maintenance responsibilities. Under Mic higan law, a landlord is obligated to keep rental property in reasonable repair and to comply with health and safety laws (M.C.L.A. 554.139; M.S.A . 26.1109). Tenants are generally expected to assist the landlord in main taining the premises in a safe and sanitary condition, to promptly notify the landlord of maintenance problems that require attention, and to leav e the premises in good condition (normal wear and tear excepted). These r esponsibilities can be modified, by mutual agreement of the landlord and tenant, when the lease has a current term of at least one year.


Maintenance problems fall into three categories:

  1. Emergencies,

  2. Major problems, and

  3. Minor problems.

Emergencies are situations that require immediate action (within 24 hours ) because they pose a threat to the health and safety of the residents. E xamples of emergencies are leaking gas, flooding and major roof problems.

Major problems are conditions which affect the quality of the residential premises but do not pose an immediate threat to the health or safety of the residents. Examples of major problems are deficient heating in a port ion of the house, a clogged drain and a deficient water heater.


  1. Contact the landlord

    If your landlord isn't maintaining his/her rental property according to t he local housing code or your rental agreement, you should first discuss it with your landlord. Many landlords aren't aware of the existence of pr oblems until the tenant notifies them. If your landlord agrees to make th e repairs, ask for a date by which the repairs will be completed. Always remember to be courteous in discussions with your landlord.

    If after your initial discussion with your landlord, you feel that s/he m ay not cooperate, send your landlord a letter. Restate the problem and re fer to the previous discussion. State that you will take action if the pr oblem isn't resolved immediately. It is also a good idea to contact the l ocal building department to request an inspection of the property.

  2. Keep Records

    It is very important that you keep a written record concerning maintenanc e problems. A written record will help you keep track of whether your lan dlord is responding to your requests. A written record will also prove in valuable in the event you have to go to court because the landlord did n ot comply with your requests. A written record should provide the answers to any questions a judge might ask you.



These steps should be taken only after

  1. you have documented your problem;

  2. you've given the landlord time to repair;

  3. the landlord has failed to act.


Withholding rent can be an effective strategy when your landlord fails to maintain your rental unit. Before your rent is due, deposit the money in a separate savings account and make a note of it in your records. Notify your landlord in writing that you have taken this action and explain why you have done so. State that you will release the money when the mainten ance problems have been corrected. Keep a copy of the letter for your rec ords and send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested. You sh ould be prepared to prove in court, if necessary, that your landlord has not made the repairs.


The Michigan Court of Appeals. in Anchor Inn v. Knopman, 71 Mich App 64 ( 1976), held that a tenant may make repairs and deduct the cost from rent where the landlord fails to make such repairs. The court required that t here be (1) a duty to repair (provided by statute - M.C.L.A. 554.139; M.S .A. 26.1109); (2) notice to the landlord that repairs are needed or actua l knowledge on the part of the landlord that repairs are needed; and (3) reasonable lapse of time from receipt of notice or actual knowledge by t he landlord so that s/he can make the repairs. Once these conditions have been met, you can proceed.

You should first call at least three companies for estimates (if it is a do-it-yourself job, call three stores to price parts). Once you have obta ined the estimates send your landlord a letter including the estimates. S tate that you will pay for the repairs out of your withheld rent or your next rent payment. Set a date for the landlord to make the repairs and st ate that you will take care of the problem yourself if s/he does not act by that date. Keep a copy of the letter and the estimates for your record s. Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested.

If the landlord does not respond by the date you set, hire the lowest bid der (or purchase the parts) and pay for the work yourself. Send your land lord a letter in-forming him/her of your action and enclose the receipts for all of your expenditures.

3510 Faunce Student Services Bldg.
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5077
Phone: (616) 387-2336
Fax: (616) 387-2325

Original HTML by Timothy Strunk