MSC Directive on Landlord/Tenant Cases Focuses on Rights, Health

June 10, 2020

Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order No. 2020-17 provides direction to state trial courts for resuming landlord/tenant cases, which the Court, the state, and the federal government had temporarily halted.

According to a press release from the Court, the order “focuses on making sure that the health of all participants is protected, cases are filed and disposed of in a reasonable period of time, and defendants are made aware of their right to legal counsel and of the availability of resources to help pay rent.”

Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack said in the release that the Court is “pioneering a new approach for processing cases that protects public health and helps courts be more efficient while being more responsive to the needs of the public,” adding that, “[g]etting this process right is a win-win scenario for the community and for courts.”

To address the expected deluge of cases, the order prioritizes cases based on the length of time rent has not been paid, urges continued remote proceedings, highlights Community Dispute Resolution Program offices, and expands use of conditional dismissals.

According to the Court’s release, key highlights of the order include:

  • Each landlord/tenant case must be scheduled for a specific date and time. This is in contrast to the traditional process of having a large group of cases scheduled for a certain period of time. This process change is vital to complying with social distancing requirements needed to protect public safety.
  • Cases scheduled first will be those in which illegal activity or extensive physical damage to the premises have been alleged. Cases in which rent has not been paid for 120 days or more will have second priority while cases with lesser arrearages will be scheduled later. Courts should not proceed to hearing cases with a lower priority until cases with a higher priority have been scheduled for hearing. MSC Enters Order Defining Process for Handling Landlord/Tenant Cases Page 2
  • In cases where a remote hearing is scheduled for a first proceeding and the defendant fails to appear, a default judgement will not be entered unless the defendant was personally served a summons to appear, and the case will be rescheduled via mail notice for an in-person hearing.
  • At the initial hearing, each court must inform defendants regarding their statutory right to legal counsel. To assist defendants who cannot afford counsel, courts must provide information about local legal aid offices and are encouraged to have legal services available either in person or via remote means whenever hearings are scheduled.
  • In every case, as long as the defendant appears at the initial pretrial hearing to be advised of their rights, the court will adjourn the case for one week so that the defendant has time to exercise those rights.
  • Defendants must also be informed of the availability of rental payment assistance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and other community agencies.