View Online
April 2018
Does a Rental Ordinance Create a Private Cause of Action?

Lease Agreement

By Glen Zatz, Bodman PLC

Defendant-tenant sought to recover rent paid to plaintiff-landlord under his residential lease on the basis that a city ordinance prohibited a landlord from accepting, retaining, or recovering rent without a valid rental permit. In McMillan v. Douglas (Mich App No. 335166, December 14, 2017), the court in a published opinion rejected plaintiff’s claim and set forth the standards for review.

The court stated that “[a]bsent an indication to the contrary, an ordinance imposing a public duty on a property owner does not give rise to a private cause of action.” Levendoski v. Geisenhaver (375 Mich 225, 228 (1965)). The court further stated that when an ordinance “imposes a new duty unknown to the common law and provides a comprehensive administrative or other enforcement mechanism … a private right of action will not be inferred.” Claire-Ann Co. v. Christenson & Christenson, Inc. (223 Mich App 25, 31 (1997)). The court held: there was no private right of action since the ordinance does not expressly provide for a private cause of action; there is no reference to “tenant” in the provision prohibiting landlord’s rent collection; a rental permit is not a common law obligation; and the landlord is subject to enforcement action by the city.

Interestingly, the court noted that the ordinance might be used as a “shield” by a tenant when being sued for unpaid rent, as opposed to a “sword” to recover rent. The court also noted that the ordinance was not clear as to what the city should do with any rent that it recouped from the landlord because the ordinance didn’t require returning the rent to the tenant.

Practice Tip: Keep this decision in mind when seeking recourse for a property owner’s violation of an ordinance.

RPLS Pro Bono Clinic Assists Nonprofits

Pro Bono

On January 24, 2018, the Real Property Law Section, the University of Detroit-Mercy Law School, and Michigan Community Legal Resources worked together to provide assistance to four nonprofits that each focus on providing shelter to needy individuals as part of the newly established National Day of Giving. Lawyers and law students met for two hours with the following nonprofits: C.O.T.S, Ruth Ellis Center, Homeless Action Network, and Alternatives for Girls. During the meetings, lawyers and students conducted legal and compliance audits of the operating documents and procedures utilized by each of the nonprofits. After the audits were completed, lawyers and students evaluated the experience together and shared ideas for futures assistance to worthy nonprofits serving those in need.

 The National Day of Giving was organized through the National Network of Business Pro Bono Providers and coordinated through the National Law Alliance.

This year, Brian Henry serves as chair of the RPLS Pro Bono Committee, which will organize another pro bono clinic in the fall and is soliciting interest for a day of service to provide “hands on” assistance to nonprofits that focus on providing shelter. At this year’s Summer Conference, Brian Henry and Joe Uhl from Michigan Community Legal Resources will lead a roundtable discussion to explain these and other pro bono opportunities. If you are interested in helping the Pro Bono Committee, please contact Brian at

Legislative Report

View the report


Register Today!

April 19, 2018

Developments in Construction Law
Roundtables: 3:30–5:00 p.m. Reception: 5:00–6:00 p.m.
Downtown Market, 435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids
Register: online or mail form

May 3, 2018
2017-2018 Homeward Bound Series
Marijuana Legalization & Real Property Law
2:00-5:00 p.m.
Inn at St. John's, Plymouth


May 9-10, 2018
Real Property Law Academy I

8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Michigan State University Management Education Center
811 W Square Lake Rd, Troy
Register: online or by mail form
Firm Registration Available

July 18–21, 2018
Summer Conference 2018
Crystal Mountain, Thompsonville
Registration and Program Information to come
Book a Room or call (855) 520-2974 and use special code 45U4MQ to receive the Real Property Law Section group discount.
Crystal Mountain Room Information

Join a Committee

Take the opportunity to get involved by writing for one of our publications, presenting at a conference or seminar, or joining one of the committees that cover virtually every area in real estate law. See our committees and how you can join or see the committees you're already subscribed to.

Note to Committee Members:
Communication settings for RPLS Special Committee members have been changed to "Daily Digest." This means when a message is posted on your Committee page, you will receive the message the day after it is posted.

Write an Article

Interested in writing an article for the e-Newsletter? Please contact co-editors Glen Zatz at, Howard Lax at, or Patricia Paruch at