legal eviction process

Landlords must follow a formal legal process in order to evict tenants. The legal eviction process occurs in five stages, as described below.

Eviction court data only includes information on formal, court-ordered evictions. However, an untold number of illegal evictions take place outside the court system, for instance when tenants are forced to move out in response to landlord threats or harassment or to avoid the intimidating and unfair legal process. Learn more about illegal evictions here.

Stage 1: Notice

  • The legal eviction process begins when a landlord serves a tenant an eviction notice in writing. (See LEGAL JARGON below for more detail on bolded terms).

  • The notice must inform the tenant that the landlord intends to file an eviction case in court, provide a time period for resolution outside of court (e.g., pay or move by a certain date), and identify a specific reason for eviction.

  • For example, if a landlord intends to evict a tenant for termination of tenancy, the notice would specify that the tenant has 30 days to move before the landlord files a complaint with the court.

  • Landlords cannot legally evict a tenant for exercising their rights (filing a health/safety complaint, participating in a tenants' union, etc.).

If you have received an eviction notice, find more information here.

Stage 2: Filing

  • Once the time period listed on the eviction notice expires, a landlord can start an eviction case against a tenant by filing a complaint with the court. The reason for eviction stated in the eviction notice determines the complaint type (e.g., nonpayment of rent).

  • In the complaint, the landlord asks the court to evict the tenant and grant them possession of the property. They can also ask the court for money damages for unpaid rent or other costs.

  • The landlord must then serve the tenant a copy of the complaint and the summons (by mail and one other way), which tells the tenant the date and time of their pre-trial hearing.

  • The 36th District Court’s website says that in addition to the summons and complaint, a landlord must file a copy of the eviction notice and a City of Detroit issued Certificate of Compliance, pay the correct filing fees, and submit proof that the tenant was served the summons and complaint prior to the hearing date – but evidence indicates this is not enforced.

If you have received a court summons, find more information here.

Stage 3: Hearing

  • The first hearing in an eviction case is a pre-trial hearing, which could occur as soon as three days after the landlord serves the summons and complaint (prior to the pandemic there were no pre-trial hearings).

  • At hearings, both the landlord and the tenant must appear in court or retain attorneys to represent them.

  • Tenants can either file a written answer to raise a defense and/or counterclaim against the landlord or orally respond when they appear for their hearing.

  • Some eviction cases have several hearings. Tenants may also receive legal assistance from local legal aid providers at their court hearings, but most do not receive full representation.

  • If both parties appear in court and do not agree to settle the case, the case can proceed to trial. At trial, the landlord is supposed to have the burden of proving that they are evicting for a lawful reason and that they are entitled to possession of the property, and the tenant can offer evidence for a legal defense that protects them from being evicted. However, judges often decide on cases in just a few minutes and barely allow tenants to speak.

Stage 4: Judgment

  • If the tenant does not appear at their scheduled hearing (after the pre-trial hearing), the judge will enter a default judgment against the tenant in favor of the landlord. This means that the judge will enter an eviction judgment against the tenant if they do not appear in court.

  • If both parties appear, judges will usually encourage them to reach an agreement. Generally, most tenants who appear in court agree to a consent judgment with their landlords, putting an end to the case without a trial.

  • In cases that proceed to trial, the judge (or jury) will decide the outcome of the case and a corresponding judgment will be entered (for possession, money, or both). Either party may challenge the case outcome by filing an appeal or a post-judgment motion.

Stage 5: Order (bailiff eviction)

  • If an eviction judgment is entered in favor of the landlord, a tenant typically has 10 days to pay any back rent, costs, and fees awarded to the landlord (if non-payment was the reason for eviction) or move.

  • If a tenant remains in the property after the date stated in the judgment paperwork, a landlord can file an application for an order of eviction and a judge can sign and enter it.

  • It is illegal for a landlord to forcibly remove a tenant without a court officer and an order of eviction.

Legal jargon

Eviction Notice: A written notice a landlord must give a tenant before filing an eviction case in court. The type of notice (demand for possession, notice to quit) and for how long the notice must be given (7 days, 30 days) before a landlord can start a lawsuit depends on the cause for eviction.

Eviction Filing: The act of a landlord (plaintiff) filing a complaint to bring an eviction lawsuit against a tenant (defendant). An eviction filing can have long-term consequences for tenants' housing stability, regardless of what happens in the case.

Complaint Type: The type of document a landlord files in an eviction case, stating the reason they are seeking to evict a tenant.

Termination of Tenancy (no-cause evictions): An action a landlord takes to end a rental agreement with a tenant. Termination cases are sometimes called “no cause” evictions because a landlord does not have to give a specific or substantive cause (“just cause”) for terminating a tenancy, though a landlord cannot terminate a fixed-term (e.g., one year) tenancy unless a tenant violates a lease term. Tenants with periodic (e.g., month-to-month) or “at will” (e.g., verbal, implied consent) tenancies must be given a 30-day notice.

Certificate of Compliance (CoC): Indicates that a rental property is registered with the City of Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering, & Environmental Department (BSEED) and meets health and safety rental code requirements, including lead clearance. A CoC is required by the Detroit rental ordinance for landlords to legally occupy their units and collect rent from tenants. A CoC is required by the Detroit rental ordinance for landlords to legally occupy their units and collect rent from tenants.

Answer: A document a tenant can file with the court to respond to a landlord’s complaint. A tenant’s answer may deny a landlord's allegations and/or raise defenses to the landlord’s legal claims.

Defense: A legal reason a tenant raises for why they should not be evicted. Common defenses to eviction include that a landlord did not keep the home in a habitable condition (and the tenant legally deducted repair costs from the rent or paid the rent into an escrow account); that the landlord did not properly serve the tenant an eviction notice and/or summons and complaint; or that the eviction is retaliatory (taken in response to the tenant trying to enforce their rights under the law, such as reporting health and safety code violations or joining a tenants’ union).

Counterclaim: Claims raised by a tenant against a landlord in an eviction case and filed with the tenant’s answer. The tenant can ask the court for money damages or other relief, such as an order that the landlord repairs the property.

Consent Judgment: A judgment with terms agreed to by both parties and entered by a judge. The agreement may include a range of conditions required by either party, but will usually contain payment terms the tenant must comply with by a certain date, otherwise the landlord can request an order of eviction.

Hearing: A brief court session where a landlord and tenant can appear before a judge to resolve a particular aspect of a case, such as whether a case should be dismissed, when a trial will take place, or whether a judge will enter a judgment (by default or by consent) or an order of eviction. Multiple hearings may take place before and even after a judgment or trial.

Bench Trial: A trial where a judge makes a decision in favor of either the landlord or the tenant, if both parties appear and do not agree to settle the case (either party may alternatively request a Jury Trial). The landlord has the burden at trial of proving that a lawful reason for eviction exists and that they are entitled to possession of the property. The tenant may offer evidence for a legal defense that protects them from being evicted.

Default Judgment: A judgment entered in favor of a landlord (against a tenant) if a tenant does not file a written answer with the court or appear at their scheduled court hearing.

Eviction Judgment: The court’s decision in an eviction case. A judgment of possession entered for a landlord (against a tenant) means a landlord can recover possession of a property and file an order of eviction if a tenant does not pay the amount due (in nonpayment cases) or move out by a set date. Judgments almost always favor landlords, dispossess tenants, and show up on tenants' housing records for years.

Appeal: A formal request for the court to stay (pause) proceedings and review a judge’s decision. To file an appeal challenging an eviction judgment or order of eviction, tenants must post bond and pay monthly escrow (rent payments to a 3rd party). Appeals are challenging to file without an attorney.

Motion: A formal request for a judge to make a decision in a case.

Order of Eviction (Bailiff Eviction): A court document filed by a landlord and signed by a judge after the court has entered a judgment of possession for a landlord. The order gives a court officer or bailiff the authority to physically remove the tenant and remove their belongings from the rental property. Bailiff evictions are often traumatic events where tenants’ belongings (e.g., furniture, clothes, medicine, toys) are thrown into a dumpster and they are forcibly unhoused.