WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF EVICTION
By: Jackie Bradley/
Moving is stressful. We all know that. Many of us plan our moves for weeks or months and it’s still stressful. Now imagine what it would be like if you found out only days before you and your children were expected to move. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine. When a family is being evicted from their home, they may receive as little as seven days’ notice before their landlord can go to court against them.
When you get that first notice saying your landlord wants you out, it’s easy to panic. And there’s no denying that it’s a serious situation: eviction can have long term effects on the wellbeing of both parents and children. Many families don’t know what their options are or where to go to find out. Luckily there are several organizations and programs designed to help families in just these situations.
There are several steps to being evicted and there are different resources available depending on where you are at in the process. So to find your best resources, you have to know a little bit about the process.
In order to evict a tenant, a landlord must start by giving notice, such as a NOTICE TO QUIT, a DEMAND FOR POSSESSION, or simply a letter. This notice must:
- be delivered in person, via mail, or by giving it to someone living in the home;
- be in writing;
- be addressed to the tenant;
- describe the property and reason for eviction;
- say how to avoid eviction (such as by paying rent or moving);
- have the landlord’s name and address; and
- be dated.
Once you receive this notice, you may contact Housing Help of Lenawee to apply for rental assistance or Legal Services of South Central Michigan for legal advice and to apply for free representation from licensed attorneys.
If the tenant fails to do what the notice says (such as paying rent or moving), the landlord can file a SUMMONS and COMPLAINT with the court. This paperwork will have a case number, and must be served to the tenant either personally, via mail, or to someone living in the home. (In some circumstances, tacking to the door may also be acceptable.) In Lenawee County, tenants do not automatically get a court date. The summons will say that you have 5 days to respond; if you fail to do so, the landlord will get a DEFAULT JUDGMENT and you will only get 10 days to move! This is why is it so important to contact Legal Services and other agencies for assistance with your case as soon as you receive your first notice.
Once you receive the SUMMONS and COMPLAINT, you can contact the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to apply for State Emergency Relief to help pay back rent. If an agency says they must have an “Eviction Notice” before they can offer assistance, the SUMMONS and COMPLAINT is usually what they are talking about.
When you respond with the court, you can request to participate in a new program organized by Legal Services: the Lenawee County Eviction Mediation/Diversion Program. This program has two pieces: 1) you get the option of meeting with one of Legal Services’ attorneys on the day you go to court, although you are not guaranteed legal representation; and 2) you and your get to try to reach an agreement through mediation. This might be deciding on a payment plan for rent owed, reducing the total amount of rent owed, or allowing additional time to find housing. Some of these agreements even keep an eviction from appearing on your credit report! Even if you chose to go through Mediation without speaking to Legal Services, you can still call them before any future court dates to apply for assistance.
If either the landlord or the tenant decides against participating in the mediation program, the case will be set for a pretrial conference. In some cases, the judge will order the case to go to trial; other cases will be decided that day.
If a case is not dismissed or resolved through mediation, or if a tenant fails to file an answer or misses court, the judge will issue a JUDGMENT. The judgment may be only for possession of the home, or may also include a money judgment. In either case, the judgment will give you at least 10 days to move. If you haven’t moved at the end of those 10 days, your landlord can go get an ORDER OF EVICTION and have the sheriff remove your belongings from the property.
Keep in mind that a landlord may never evict a tenant by simply changing locks, throwing the tenant’s property out, or by turning off electricity or other utilities; they must have an Order of Eviction. If your landlord does one of these illegal actions, call Legal Services immediately!
So, basically, moving is stressful and evictions are definitely scary, but they are a little less scary when you know what to expect and where to go to find help. There are lots of resources in Lenawee County to help both parents and children get through tough times with as little panic as possible.
WHEN TO CONTACT LEGAL SERVICES:
- When you receive a Notice to Quit or Demand for Possession.
- If your landlord has illegally locked you out of your home by physically changing the locks or has cut off your utilities.
- If you have major repair issues that your landlord is refusing to fix.
- If you are the victim of domestic violence and you need to know your rights with regard to moving or breaking a lease.
Jackie Bradley has been working in Lenawee County for two years as the Legal Assistant for LSSCM. She grew up in Southeast Michigan and, despite a brief stay in St Louis, MO for graduate school, she has settled down in Monroe. Jackie doesn’t have any kids of her own, but she is a volunteer tutor twice a week (and thinks that’s a good amount of kids for her, right now!).