Landlord Tenant Furnace Maintenance Agreements in Michigan
Winters in Michigan have a reputation for being brutally cold. Do you currently rent a home, apartment or other living are in Michigan and ever considered what to do when you have a problem with your furnace? This article describes the responsibilities of both the Landlord and the Tenant. Hopefully you will not need to “use” this article, however we do sincerely hope that this information is helpful for you to understand what to do, when to do it and how to proceed if and when you, or someone you know, has an issue with a furnace during a rough Michigan winter.
Resolving Furnace Maintenance in a Landlord Tenant Relationship
REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE PROBLEMS range from scenarios that are a nuisance to scenarios that pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the tenant. It should be noted, however, that both the Landlord and the Tenant have responsibilities for maintenance.
In general, there are are three types of maintenance problems:
- 1) Emergencies – These require action within 24 hours and pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the occupant—gas leak, flooding, defective furnace, or major roof damage.
- 2) Major Problems – Affect the quality of the residential environment, but not to the degree that the life of the occupant is immediately endangered—defective water heater, clogged drain, heating problem in part of a house.
- 3) Minor Problems – These fall into the nuisance category—defective lighting, locks, faucets; household pests; and peeling paint and wallpaper.
Under Michigan law, the landlord has a duty to keep the rental property and all common areas:
- Fit for the use intended by the parties
- In reasonable repair during the term of the lease
- In compliance with the health and safety laws. (Michigan Statute 554.139)
Whether the andlord is required to repair a problem depends on two factors: the nature of the problem itself, and whether the landlord’s duty to repair has been modified—either by the conduct of the Tenant or by mutual landlord-tenant agreement. Unfortunately, the term “reasonable repair” is not defined by law—it is a question of fact, and if litigated would be decided by the judge (or jury). However, a little common sense can go a long way here. While it would certainly be reasonable for a landlord to fix a clogged drain or defective water heater, it may not be reasonable to require the Landlord to repair a minor chip in a countertop or peeling wallpaper. The Landlord is relieved of the duty to repair and comply if the Tenant’s willful or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct has caused the disrepair or violation of health or safety laws. The Landlord and Tenant may—by mutual agreement—modify these duties and make the Tenant responsible for repairs, but only if the lease agreement has a current term of at least 1 year. In other words, if the lease term is less than 1 year, the Landlord’s duty cannot be modified. Additionally, almost all courts recognize that a residential lease agreement includes the implied duty that the rental property must be fit for habitation by humans. This means that the rental property must meet some minimum level of standard so as not to expose the occupants to unreasonable health risks. This implied duty cannot be modified or waived. In addition to state law requirements, counties and municipalities are free to enact ordinances that establish additional requirements for Landlords beyond minimum habitability standards. Most municipalities have a housing code protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. Some require that the rental property be inspected on a regular basis. Some even requiring licensing before a Tenant can move in.
Check with the local city or county government code enforcement office for additional standards imposed on Landlords in maintaining their rental property.
Although responsibilities can be modified in certain instances—by mutual agreement between the Landlord and Tenant—a Tenant is generally expected to:
- Pay rent on time
- Keep the rental property in a safe and sanitary condition
- Promptly notify the Landlord of maintenance problems
- Exterminate insects that appear if they were not there when Tenant moved in
- Leave the rental property in good condition—reasonable wear and tear excepted.
Click here to read about additional legal information and important steps to take when an issue with a furnace occurs this winter.