What are our tenant rights in MI?
April 18, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

If a tenant's safety is severely threatened, can they legally bypass the lease agreement and break the lease?

About a month ago I (Jimmy*) promised my friend Frankie* to move into her apartment to sublease the remaining 4 months of her lease. My lease ends on the 25th of April. Everything was going as planned, she spoke with the landlord who approved the sublease, and I was looking forward to move in. She is supposed to move out on the 21st of April, in a couple of days. We also live in Michigan, Ann Arbor area and we’re broke students. About a week ago, Frankie met this guy at the nearby park who at first seemed friendly and reasonable, but now has become a major problem.

This is what she says: He at first seemed very humorous, even when expressing some questionable opinions, but as the day and conversation went on, his behavior began to reveal a more unstable, aggressive condition. He walked me back to my apartment and became aware of where I was living. The following day he was seen hanging around the neighborhood by the other tenants of my apartment building, and we saw him on the street as well before we found out that he's been specifically looking for me. We courteously said hello for few seconds and left. Later that evening he was ringing the door bell while I was gone, and also did so while I was in my apartment. The tenants on the second floor listened as I went down to confront him and during this encounter he asked I was alone, told me that he was going to help me, and stepped inside the doorway. I told him that I didn’t want him coming to my house any longer, and he was making me uncomfortable. He said that he understood, looked at me up and down, walked out, and slammed the door.

We went together to the police where Frankie filed a police report (we're also keeping notes about all the details we could remember), and the police said they would keep an eye out for him to ID him and get his last name to file a protection order. Frankie was really afraid, and had to sleep on my couch that night. Since then, he still continues to come to Frankie's door, but luckily while she wasn't present. This past Saturday I left to go visit Frankie at her work, and I saw him again very close to my house, just loitering on the sidewalk. I was suspicious, and after I passed him I started looking behind me, and it turned out that he started following me as well. I had to take few sharp turns and I managed to lose him, because I have no idea who this person is and what he's capable of – I had an experience with him a month ago as well, where he walked up to me on the street, said whole bunch of religious gibberish and walked off dramatically.

Today, we talked with Frankie's landlord and explained how this is a serious safety issue not just for us, but for all of the tenants in the building, and how it's nobody's fault for being stuck in a situation like this. Basically we were trying to find a way to either break the lease, or simply sublease at a different place. The landlord, wasn't sympathetic at all, and basically told us to speak with a lawyer because she won't break the lease, and repeatedly stated that this is not her issue, and all she can do is keep the building up to code. To be fair, she also mentioned the possibility of finding someone else to sublease it.

We are wondering if there's anything we could do about this, because the rent is about $500 a month, and it doesn't seem fair for anyone to pay for it. We understand the position of the landlord, but we think this goes beyond the issue of money, because who knows when will the police find this person, what will happen in meantime, and how he will react after that. We're hoping there's some sort of protection for tenants in extraordinary situations such as this.

Note: Our names are altered, and some of the details are cut short in order to keep this post concise, but we still apologize for the length. If something is unclear, we can gladly clarify.
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Has he done anything that would warrant going to the police and pulling a restraining order? If not, document all encounters. Also, talk to the landlord and have him deal with it directly. Don't deal with the guy yourself.
posted by TheBones at 11:32 AM on April 18, 2011

serious question: why is this the landlords problem ?
posted by k5.user at 11:35 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: K5.user, I'm wondering that myself. But, in any event, OP, you should call this group and ask them to explain what your rights are.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:36 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @k5.user.
We're not saying it's the landlord's problem at all, we're merely concerned for our safety and the safety of everyone else living there.
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan at 11:39 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Also contact the University of Michigan Law School's General Clinic, which works on many kinds of cases including landlord-tenant issues. They may also be able to help with a restraining order.
posted by jedicus at 11:39 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

>because the rent is about $500 a month, and it doesn't seem fair for anyone to pay for it.

Buh? No, it's much fairer to have the landlord have trouble making her own mortgage payment because your friend lets strangers walk her home.

This is not a good situation, but stiffing the landlord is not the solution.
posted by cyndigo at 11:40 AM on April 18, 2011 [13 favorites]

This is a genuine problem, but it's not your landlord's problem (which, on preview, you've acknowledged). IANAL, but I'm quite sure your solution lies elsewhere.
posted by jon1270 at 11:41 AM on April 18, 2011

Response by poster: @cyndigo
Why are we attacking the victim?
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan at 11:43 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAL. I'm nthing the "how is this the landlord's problem" crowd. Frankie met this individual at a park, not on the property. The landlord didn't bring them there. The landlord isn't allowing this guy to hang out on the property, giving him a key, etc. The landlord did nothing to cause this. The landlord is not responsible for your or Frankie's actions. The landlord is not responsible for your individual safety (aside from those required by law). The landlord doesn't have incentive or reason to allow you to break lease.

The solution is going to be hounding the police to do something about this person. If this person shows up call the police immediately. Have your case number on hand. Have the name of the officer who wrote the report in hand. Call every time the guy shows up or causes trouble until you have a resolution.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:44 AM on April 18, 2011 [11 favorites]

I say: disconnect the doorbell, ignore the guy, don't walk anywhere alone for a few weeks, don't speak to him (AT ALL) if he approaches you, he will doubtless find someone more entertaining to follow soon.

Also, your friend is moving in three days, yes? Why not let her move today. You are not connected in any way with the guy other than the fact you'll have the same doorbell and he talked to you once a few months ago. Why would he transfer his interest to you?

Reconnect the doorbell in two weeks. In the interim, have friends and pizza guys call your cell for access (I had an apartment building where that was the only way they could get access, pizza guys are surprisingly accommodating about this sort of thing)
posted by arnicae at 11:56 AM on April 18, 2011

It sucks your friend is in this situation, but this is straight up police business. Your landlord is not legally responsible for neighborhood safety. IANAL, but I suspect his obligation starts and ends at ensuring there are code-compliant locks on the doors and gates on the windows.

Is there any kind of neighborhood watch/block organization/etc. she can tap into?

roomcoloredcharlatan: "Why are we attacking the victim?"

No one here is doing that.
posted by mkultra at 11:58 AM on April 18, 2011 [11 favorites]

This is what police are for. The police need to be involved with this. In fact, the next time the guy shows up your friend needs to call the police, and then go down to talk to him.

The other option here is for your friend to largest man she knows to not-so-subtly threaten this guy. He needs to know that if he shows up again his options are to get the crap beaten out of him or to talk to the police.
posted by ged at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Mister Fabulous
Like we mentioned, we understand the position of the landlord and we've done everything that we can with the police. Her claim that the building is up to code is also false, because one of Frankie's doors cannot be locked, nor they contain any peep holes. While we have our opinions, we're looking for help especially like the suggestions by Admiral Haddock, and jedicus.

Good perspective, but that's only one possibility. This guy may be suffering from serious mental issues (he claimed to Frankie that he is a god right before they separated the first day), and nobody should be forced to deal with people like that aside of doctors. I was really excited to move there, but after all this I cannot walk into a situation like this and expect to be safe. (Un)fortunately my days of having fights with random strangers on the street are over. :)
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan at 12:08 PM on April 18, 2011

Do you want help and answers, or do you want to be ignored for being a volatile, words-in-our-mouths kind of person? I gurantee that if you keep throwing crap like "blaming the victim" around when people are giving you their honest, educated opinions HERE, your chances of gaining official support from the police is slim. You, as your friebd's advocate, will be viewed as hysterical, and you are doing her a great disservice by taking what the people here are saying to help you and throwing shades on it.

Now. Your friend needs to file a police report and realize that no, legally her landlord probably has no logical or valid blame to share in the threat against her safety. It is not victim blaming to say that she was the one who let him into her place of residence first; it is FACT and that's what a good lawyer will deal with first. I have survived assault. I know what it's like to be threatened. But there is something called reality at hand here, and to win against this guy, focus your energies on getting protection from the police.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:09 PM on April 18, 2011 [30 favorites]

*gaurantee, *friend, god I hate my iPhone sometimes
posted by patronuscharms at 12:12 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: At the risk of being taken to task again,

>one of Frankie's doors cannot be locked, nor they contain any peep holes

peepholes may or may not be required by code (you can check on this), but it *is* reasonable to ask your landlord to immediately address the lock situation.
posted by cyndigo at 12:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

I had something similar happen, and the apartment manager was willing to let me move at my expense into another open room in the same complex. It was a big place and my stalker didn't know my car or license plate, plus I thought if he knew I'd moved the LAST place he'd expect was in the same complex. For other, irrelevant reasons the plan never materialized, but you might try. Also, big dog, big friend, warning that you will go to the police, pepper spray, possible courtesy officer or night guard/handyman to keep an eye out for you. And very clear communication, I mean VERY mean, harsh "go away" talk with the guy, repeated over and over vehemently.
posted by Nixy at 12:20 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: "We went together to the police where Frankie filed a police report"
Maybe we can stop telling the OP to do that since it has been done.
posted by soelo at 12:21 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

nobody should be forced to deal with people like that

Yes, well. Welcome to being a grown-up. How old are you guys? Your landlord is not your...parent and you are framing this bizarrely. This is not remotely a landlord-tenant issue. It is also not even close to an "extraordinary situation."

Have you tried to get in touch with a community mental health organisation, see if there's some help out there for the dude coming to the door?

"one of Frankie's doors cannot be locked, nor they contain any peep holes"

A door to the outside, or...?
posted by kmennie at 12:22 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is really scary, I certainly hear that. I had something similar happen to me when I lived abroad and I spent the next few days that I was home actually locked in my room. Even now, it's frightening to remember. I was convinced that the guy would follow me into my apartment and try to come in, but he never did.

However, you don't have any reason to believe that this guy is violent (unless there's stuff you haven't mentioned). You really don't. It is far, far more likely that someone with a severe untreated mental illness will follow you, ramble at you, yell and so on than actually do anything dangerous. I've been in situations where I've dealt with many, many mentally ill homeless folks and while it hasn't always been a barrel of laughs, I've always been safe.

In general, I've had to set firm boundaries with people and then ignore further attempts at contact. After a while, they do get bored and go away. It sounds like your guy was willing to leave when told to do so; you can probably keep these boundaries up pretty easily.

I suggest that you document, make sure all locks are working and ignore the guy. Maybe have friends stay with you for a few nights when you move in. Also, talk to the other tenants and let them know what's going on. And snap a picture of the guy if you can, so you can show people what he looks like.

I really sympathize with you in terms of how this feels. It truly sucks to be afraid in your own home. And people in the grips of untreated mental illness can seem really scary, plus it's not as though you get "how to deal with folks in the grips of delusions" training at school. In general, though, these folks are not dangerous; they're sick and they can be scary and they can hang around until you want to scream, but they will not hurt you.
posted by Frowner at 12:37 PM on April 18, 2011

…the rent is about $500 a month, and it doesn't seem fair for anyone to pay for it.

i don't think anyone here is trying to blame the victim, but that doesn't preclude that she take responsibility for the fact that she chatted up a stranger at the park and allowed him to walk her home and discover where she lives. yes, it absolutely, indescribably sucks that that stranger is now stalking her (and it appears, you as well) but this doesn't mean that the both of you can then legally void your responsibility for rent on the apartment, because the landlord/your lease agreement has nothing to do with causing the stranger to stalk your friend. as long as the building meets all legal code requirements, that is where the landlord's responsibility ends. would it have been understanding of her to allow your friend to break the lease without financial remuneration? yes, it would have—but she is under no obligation to do so.

as others have said, your/friend's recourse is to monitor this man and to contact the police with every instance of sighting or attempted interaction. do not, as ged suggested above, voluntarily interact with this man again; do not get someone to threaten him. do not further interact in any way this man at all.
posted by violetk at 12:41 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

one of Frankie's doors cannot be locked, nor they contain any peep holes.

OP, if you could clarify this statement, people may be able to help you more. The material security of the apartment is absolutely the landlord's responsibility, so if he's neglecting that you may have grounds to break the lease, or at least get it remedied.
posted by auto-correct at 12:49 PM on April 18, 2011

The material security of the apartment is absolutely the landlord's responsibility, so if he's neglecting that you may have grounds to break the lease, or at least get it remedied.

Probably just the latter — no jurisdiction I'm aware of allows a tenant to unilaterally break a lease due to a maintenance issue without allowing the landlord the opportunity to remedy the problem "in a timely fashion" or some such wording.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2011

Response by poster: @auto-correct
The apartment is on the top floor of a big house. There's one main entrance where the buzzers are, and two more doors that lead to her apartment. Those two doors lack peepholes, and one of them has a broken lock.

We will try to respond to everything else, this has been a crazy day.
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan at 1:10 PM on April 18, 2011

Good luck with the cops -- when I was living in Ann Arbor for a few years, it took an hour for them to show up when I made what I thought was a rather important call.

Definitely get that lock replaced ASAP. If it's not a public door, consider just buying a new lock, installing it, and sending the cost of the lock to the landlord or deducting that amount from next month's rent.

Not directly related to the question, BUT --

That said, if there's an actual protection order involved yes-pretty much any time she sees the guy, call the cops IMMEDIATELY and the first words out of her mouth are 'My name is Frankie, I have a protection order against Creeper X, I'm at Whatever Street and he's following me, I need someone here NOW'. Don't even mess around, and demand a police presence like thirty seconds ago.

Do not engage him. Do not acknowledge him. Do not speak to him. Do not even LOOK AT HIM, if you can avoid it. He's well into stalker territory, and even looking at him can validate his feelings. Any attempt at contact should be immediately and ruthlessly crushed as soon as possible. Make sure she has her cellphone charged and on her in a secure, accessible pocket at all times -- bonus points if she gets a wrist strap that makes it harder for someone to snatch out of her hand (depending on how paranoid we want to be, here).

(Have two stalkers, one ex and one current. In my area I need to have proof of a threat before they'll authorize a PO, and they're too smart to slip up like that.)
posted by Heretical at 1:14 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

If peepholes aren't an option, you may be able to install a webcam / security cam outside the door, with a monitor inside. Talk to your landlord and see if it's OK to put a camera in the common area outside your door, and explain the situation to them.
posted by zippy at 1:17 PM on April 18, 2011

Mod note: A couple comments removed. roomcoloredcharlatan, if you're frustrated by a given answer please just flag it and ignore it; getting in a fight with folks in the thread is not okay.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:21 PM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

I really find it hard to believe that a landlord is actually going to sue two broke students for 4 months worth of rent amounting to $2,000. If you honestly are fearing for your life, by all means, find housing elsewhere... try to give 30 days notice, even if it means paying another $250 a piece for one more month's rent, if Frankie is up to that.... but keep all the police paperwork on file, etc. etc. Try to do the right thing, who knows, this situation may clear itself up within that 30-day time, but know that your lease is NOT going to get renewed if you pursue this further. This sounds like bluster from a landlord who needs money. Give the 30 days if you can (financially, if you can't stay there), and if the landlord can't find someone to take the space, they can see you in court, if they really want to lose money and time on the deal.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

You have some references to legal aid groups already, so I'll just say this:

These sorts of disputes are not about whose is to blame, but about who bears the risk of loss. Blame sometimes determines that, but not always. Even if Frankie ends up having to pay some damages for breaking the lease, that doesn't mean Frankie is a bad person or has done something wrong any more than the landlord eating the loss would mean the landlord is a bad person who had done something wrong.
posted by Marty Marx at 4:07 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gah. Who is. (It was "whose fault it is...")
posted by Marty Marx at 4:21 PM on April 18, 2011

You want to break a sublease because your friend did the naive undergrad thing and befriended one of the wackjob local talent?

Not to discount the possibility that this is worth serious concern on her part, you're in flat-out ZOMG DRAMA mode here, and acting like a spooked kid instead of a responsible adult.

Some advice: The campus cops are Washtenaw sheriffs and much more interested in fucking with the local indigents — depending on where you are in town, it can make a lot more sense to go to them than to the city cops.

The landlord's got nothing to do with this, really. If you want to break the lease, it's your friend on the hook. Do you feel like your safety is enough of an issue to fuck your friend out of $500 a month? Or do you only think it seems fair when you're fucking the landlord out of $500?

I wouldn't get all uppity over the "code violations" either — Ann Arbor City Code section 105 has the laws that govern rental properties. Depending on how your place is zoned — either as a single family (one primary family space, plus up to three other roomers), multiple dwelling (self-explanatory) or a rooming dwelling (like a frat house or coop) — the requirements for locks are actually pretty lax. The landlord only has to provide for a lock on the door external to the dwelling unit, and where that is exactly is debatable. Likewise, peepholes aren't required — depending on how your exit relates to the outside world (can other people use it?), they may be required to have a chain or a privacy bolt, but if the exterior-most door is defined as the exterior of your dwelling, then the other doors are irrelevant.

You can demand that your landlord bring the place up to code and request that fixes be made, but realize that the timeline is pretty long on that, relative to your concerns — I believe that landlords have 60 days to respond to code violations, and that's after you've spent a couple weeks getting the inspector out there and another couple weeks with them officially notifying, etc.

You can break a lease over dwellings not being up to code, but frankly, that seems like a pretty huge over-reaction in this case, and something that you'd have to prove.

Also, to counter what others have said: Yes, a landlord very much will sue over a broken lease. They can also go after your credit. You can countersue if you want, but your contract isn't with the landlord, it's with your friend.

So stop being a yutz, realize this will mostly blow over and that there are legitimate, if tedious, avenues you can (and should) pursue if this is a legitimate threat, but just because your friend got spooked doesn't give you the right to break a lease, morally or legally (INAL).
posted by klangklangston at 12:33 AM on April 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

I know how scary this is...my girlfriend had a stalker who came to her house and called her repeatedly, and the police didn't seem at all concerned in helping, even as he was doing things like leaving used condoms on the doorknob.

Having a can of bear spray did a lot to ease our fears, as well as installing heavy curtains and having 911 on speed dial. The guy didn't persist too long when we started managing to avoid him. If she can go live somewhere else for a week or two, maybe have a big burly friend stay at her apartment for a couple weeks and be paid in beers or steAks or something for it that might be helpful.
posted by whalebreath at 8:14 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: If you plan on continuing to rent in Ann Arbor in the future, you really should read Rights and Duties of Tenants (pdf). It has three sections. The first written by the City of Ann Arbor, the second by landlord advocates and the third by tenants advocates. I found it invaluable many times over the 15 years and half dozen Ann Arbor houses/apartments that I lived through.

To me, this just sounds like life happening in Ann Arbor. It's not your landlord's responsibility to provide you a crime-free neighborhood. So if you break a lease, be prepared to pay for it.

If it provides any comfort, most of the crazy people I came across in Ann Arbor didn't stick around very long. I hope you have a similar experience.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:56 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the record, the guy ended up stalking a lot of our friends, and is a fugitive wanted by the police, so i'd like to thank everyone who took our situation seriously.
posted by roomcoloredcharlatan at 1:32 PM on March 24, 2012

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