Habitability Issues

‘Habitability’ is your right as a renter to a decent, liveable space. 

Renters are entitled to safe, working, dry, warm units. It is your landlord’s legal responsibility to keep your home habitable. This page outlines the guidelines for rental unit habitability in Detroit and steps to take if your landlord is not maintaining your unit to a liveable standard.

The Landlord’s Responsibilities

Your landlord is responsible for keeping the rental property and all common areas:

  • Fit for use (working plumbing, electrical, sanitation facilities, heating and ventilation, and supply hot and cold running water);
  • In reasonable repair (see below for what is considered “reasonable”); and
  • Compliant with health and safety laws.

What to do if your Detroit rental property is not in habitable condition:

File a rental complaint online with the City of Detroit’s Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) or call BSEED at (313) 224-2733. BSEED will inspect the property (for free) and tell your landlord what they are responsible for fixing, and how long they have to make the necessary repairs. 

It is important that you keep a paper trail to document the interactions with both your landlord and BSEED every step of the way. This paper trail will 1) pressure your landlord to actually fix the problem because 2) give you a strong defense in court if the habitability problem escalates to legal action. 

To enforce your right to habitability, follow the following steps:

  1. Notify your landlord of the habitability problem, by phone and in writing. Make sure to include the date (mm/dd/yyyy). 
  2. At the same time, or if you’re not satisfied with your landlord’s response to the complaint, call BSEED at 313-628-2451.
  3. BSEED will schedule an inspection. An inspector will examine the interior and exterior of the property and your unit and write an inspection report stating what problems the landlord has to fix and how long they have to do it. 
  4. If the landlord does not make repairs within the time required by BSEED, begin putting your rent in an escrow account, a bank account that offers a legal way to withhold rent until repairs have been made. Learn more about escrow here
  5. Your landlord can be fined or ticketed, and they can lose the right to rent property. You may have to go to court and present the documentation of your habitability issue to achieve this outcome. The ultimate arbiter of habitability is a judge. 

Habitability guidelines for rental units

Landlords must rent properties that are in reasonable repair. “Reasonable repair” is not defined by law, but landlords are not allowed to put tenants in harm’s way due to maintenance issues, and they must offer decent units to a livable standard. 

How serious is your habitability issue? 

Emergency Repairs and Maintenance: 

Emergency issues pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the household. If you have a gas leak, flooding, defective furnace (not retaining heat at 68 degrees), bedbugs, or major roof damage, this is an emergency!  Your landlord must address the problem within 24 to 72 hours. 

Major Repairs and Maintenance:

Major habitability issues do not pose an immediate danger, but they decrease the quality of your living situation. Examples of major issues include a defective water heater, clogged drain,  crumbling walls, locked emergency exits, sewage issues, and lack of smoke detectors. 

Minor Repairs and Maintenance:

Minor habitability issues are nuisances. These include defective lighting, dripping faucets, falling gutters, broken railings, unpatched holes in walls or ceilings, and peeling paint or wallpaper. 

Certificate of Compliance

Your landlord is also responsible for registering the rental property with BSEED and obtaining a Certificate of Compliance. The Certificate of Compliance demonstrates that the property is safe for occupancy. Check to see if your property is compliant with the city’s rental code by looking it up either here or here. File a rental complaint online with BSEED or call them at (313) 224-2733 or 313-628-2451.  (313) 224-2733 or 313-628-2451.

Can I be evicted for asserting my right to a habitable rental unit?

It is illegal under Michigan law for landlords to retaliate against tenants for attempting to enforce their legal right to habitable living standards. Landlord retaliation is presumed if the landlord attempts to evict the tenant within 90 days of the tenant requesting repairs, filing a complaint against the landlord, or withholding rent for reasonable repairs. Remember, your landlord cannot evict you on their own. An eviction notice is not an eviction order. For more on illegal eviction, review this resource