How to Break a Rental Lease Without Penalty in Michigan

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A Michigan rental lease is a contract entered into between the landlord and the tenant. Both parties have rights and obligations under that contract. When either party breaks the terms of the rental lease, they may owe the other party damages.

Generally, a Michigan rental lease terminates when the period of the tenancy is up. However, under state law, certain circumstances may allow the tenant to terminate the tenancy earlier.

What Is a Lease in Michigan?

Some states use the term "lease" to refer to a rental agreement for a fixed period of time, like a one-year lease. The lease agreement specifies both the beginning and the end of the tenancy period.

By signing a lease for a set-term tenancy, the new tenant agrees to stay or at least pay rent for the entire period, and the landlord agrees not to raise the monthly rent for that period. This is contrasted with a monthly rental agreement where either party can opt out with 30 days' notice.

But this lease/rental agreement distinction is not recognized in Michigan law/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=mcl-act-454-of-1978&highlight=). Both tenancies for a fixed term and month-to-month tenancies can be the subject of a rental lease. In Michigan, rental lease means a contract setting out the rental agreement of the parties. A rental lease in Michigan can be written or oral.

Lease Term in Michigan

A rental lease in Michigan terminates at the end of the tenancy term. For example, a one-year rental lease obligates the parties for 12 months, while a periodic/month-to-month tenancy has no definitive ending. It is an agreement to a tenancy for 30 days that renews automatically for another 30-day period unless one of the parties terminates the tenancy.

When a rental lease terminates, the renter must move out if the landlord is not willing to extend the time. If they do not, Michigan allows the landlord to evict them. A tenant can opt to end a one-year lease as of the last day of the 12-month period, and they can terminate a 30-day rental lease in the same way. Both require notice to the other party and if this is given, no penalties apply.

Terminating a Tenancy in Michigan

The way to terminate a rental agreement in Michigan at the end of the lease may be spelled out in the rental contract. Some set-term leases (for example, 12-month leases) require that a party give written notice to the other party a certain number of weeks in advance of when they intend to terminate the agreement.

If the lease does not specify proper notice, it is not required. Generally, the rental lease terminates automatically at the end of the tenancy period. The contract may specify that the rental lease transitions into a month-to-month tenancy or it may provide that when a tenant stays in the property after the lease is up with the landlord's permission, the lease is renewed for the same term and at the same rate as the original lease.

For a periodic or month-to-month tenancy, the time period and procedure for giving notice is a matter of state law. The tenant must give the landlord 30 days' written notice to end the tenancy; the same amount of notice is required for the landlord to end the tenancy.

Special Tenant Rights for Senior or Dependent Tenants

Some tenants have special early termination rights under Michigan law. Two categories of tenants with extra termination options are senior citizens and persons incapable of independent living. All Michigan leases must provide these types of tenants with special termination rights.

What kinds of early lease termination rights are they granted? The leases must include provisions permitting a tenant who has been residing there more than 13 months to terminate any lease with 60 days' notice to the landlord if the tenant becomes eligible to move into a rental unit in senior-citizen housing that is subsidized by a federal, state or local government program, or a doctor certifies that the tenant has become incapacitated, that is, incapable of living independently.

Active Military Tenants

As a matter of federal law, any tenant who enters active military duty in any branch after having signed a residential lease has a legal right to break the lease.

Federal code (50 USC 3955) provides that the lessee may terminate the lease and all obligations to pay under that lease at any time after one of three things happen:

  1. Lessee’s entry into military service.
  2. Date of the lessee’s stop movement order.
  3. Date of the lessee’s military orders.

Similarly, the surviving spouse or dependent of a military tenant who dies while in military service or guard duty or inactive-duty training has a one-year period beginning on the date of the death to terminate the lease without penalty.

Landlord's Duty of Habitability

Finally, a tenant in Michigan can get out of a rental lease without penalty when there is a constructive eviction by the landlord.

Michigan law mandates that the landlord must provide habitable dwelling units to their tenants, that is, units with fully functioning heat, plumbing, electricity and other services, as well as no leaks in the roof or walls, hot and cold running water, doors that lock and a functioning kitchen, for example.

If a Michigan living unit becomes uninhabitable under this standard, and the landlord fails to repair the unit promptly or provide other suitable housing to the tenant, a court can determine that the landlord has “constructively evicted” the tenant. In this case, the tenant has no further responsibility to make rent payments.

Seeking Legal Advice About Michigan Landlord-Tenant Law

When faced with constructive eviction or other unusual termination options in Michigan, it is usually wise for a tenant to consult an attorney. They will know the landlord/tenant laws of the state and be able to advise a tenant about lease-breaking. This protects a tenant from the possibility of misinterpreting the law and ending up on the hook for the rest of the lease payments for the rental property.

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