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Supreme Court imposes limits on conduct of landlords dispossessing tenants

MPLP Summer 2007 Housing Law Section Newsletter Article

                Issue 34, Summer 2007

Supreme Court imposes limits on conduct

of landlords dispossessing tenants

by Harish Nandagopal, MPLP Summer Law Clerk

In Sickles v. Hometown America, LLC, 477 Mich. 1076 (2007), the Michigan Supreme Court reversed a court of appeals decision that would have given landlords blanket immunity for damages caused to a tenant’s personal property when carrying out an order of eviction. The court of appeals decision, No. 266722, 2006 WL 1628121 (Mich.App. June. 13, 2006) would have allowed landlords to escape liability for damages caused by even the most reckless and egregious conduct. Under MCL 600.2918, landlords are generally liable for damages incurred during wrongful evictions.  However, the statute also stipulates that the relevant damage provisions are inapplicable when a landlord’s actions are simply enforcing a court order.  MCL 600.2918(3)(a).

In the above mentioned case, Hometown America, LLC, as a mobile home park owner, had contracted an outside company to evict the tenants pursuant to an eviction order.  The eviction entailed removing the tenants’ trailer from the corresponding lot they had rented. While performing the actual eviction, the contracting company allegedly made it difficult for the tenants to remove their personal possessions from the trailer, often purposefully and maliciously impeding their attempts to save their items before they were irreparably damaged. By the end of the “eviction,” the contractors had destroyed the tenant’s trailer and shed along with most of the possessions inside. The trailer was later taken to a dump, demolished by a bulldozer, and buried amongst the surrounding garbage.

In refusing to enforce the landlord’s liability for the destruction of the tenant’s trailer and personal possessions, the court of appeals found that the “claimed damages arose out of Hometown America's efforts to regain its possessory interest” under the court ordered eviction, barring damages under MCL 600.2918. Sickles, 2006 WL 1628121 at *3. However, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the destruction of the tenant’s property was “neither necessary to effect the eviction nor incidental to the process of eviction” and was accordingly outside the scope of the eviction order. Sickles, 477 Mich. at 1076. The Michigan Supreme Court, fortunately, seemed to apply a reasonableness standard for the treatment of a tenants possession during court ordered evictions.

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