Tenants, Trespassers and Squatters - New Michigan Laws Impact Landowners’ Rights Regarding those on, or with a Possessory Interest in, their Property
Foster Swift Finance, Real Estate and Bankruptcy News
August 26, 2014
Two bills were recently signed into law by Governor Snyder that impact the rights of real property owners in Michigan. House Bill No. 5335, now Public Act No. 226, codifies that a possessor of real property does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser and is not liable to a trespasser for physical harm, except in certain circumstances. House Bill 5069, now Public Act No. 223, sets forth liability for damages if a landlord interferes with a tenant’s possessory interest without justification, and protects property owners when evicting squatters.
Public Act No. 226
Premises liability relates to a landowner’s liability and responsibility for injuries suffered by persons who are present on the premises. The duty of care owed by a landowner varies depending on the visitor’s status, which may be that of invitee (generally someone who comes onto the land for a purpose that benefits the landowner), licensee (generally someone who is on the land because landowner consents to it, either by invitation or permission, but not necessarily for a business purpose), or trespasser.
Public Act No. 226, which addresses premises liability as it relates to a trespasser, was signed into law by Governor Snyder on June 21, 2014, and became effective on June 26, 2014. It provides that a possessor of real property owes no duty of care to a trespasser and is not liable to a trespasser for physical harm. However, a possessor of real property may be held liable for injury or death to a trespasser if any of the following apply:
- The possessor injured the trespasser by willful and wanton misconduct.
- The possessor was aware of the trespasser’s presence on the property, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known of the trespasser’s presence on the property, and failed to use ordinary care to prevent injury to the trespasser arising from active negligence.
- The possessor knew, or from facts within the possessor’s knowledge should have known, that trespassers constantly intrude on a limited area of the property and the trespasser was harmed as a result of the possessor’s failure to carry on an activity involving a risk of death or serious bodily harm with reasonable care for the trespasser’s safety.
- The trespasser is a child injured by an artificial condition on the property and all of the following apply:
- The possessor knew or had reason to know that a child would be likely to trespass on the place where the condition existed.
- The possessor knew or had reason to know of the condition and realized or should have realized that the condition would involve an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to a child.
- The injured child, because of his or her youth, did not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in intermeddling with it or in coming within the area made dangerous by it.
- The utility to the possessor of maintaining the condition and the burden of eliminating the danger were slight as compared with the risk to the child.
- The possessor failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise to protect the child.
The law also makes clear that it is not intended to increase the liability of a possessor of land, and does not affect any immunity from or defenses to liability under statutes or common law. The specificity of the statute leaves less room for interpretation by judges in cases involving a landowner’s duty of care to a trespasser.
Public Act No. 223
Landlord-tenant disputes are a fact of life. From tenants who overstay their lease terms, to squatters who never should have been there in the first place, landlords and property owners frequently need to access their property and, in some instances, remove someone from it. Public Act No. 226 was signed into law by Governor Snyder on June 21, 2014, and became effective on June 26, 2014. It sets forth liability for damages if a landlord interferes with a tenant’s possessory interest without justification, and protects property owners when evicting “squatters” from their property.
The law sets forth a damages and liability framework for circumstances in which tenants are ejected from property, or have had their possessory interest in property interfered with, without justification. The law identifies a number of actions that constitute “unlawful interference with a possessory interest” including use or threat of force, boarding of premises, and removal of locks, to name a few. It also identifies actions that are permitted, such as an owner’s actions pursuant to a court order, or actions needed to make repairs or inspect the property.
With respect to “squatters,” the law clarifies and codifies that property owners are not liable for ejecting a person from their property who entered by force or is holding the property by force. Property owners can lawfully remove the squatter using force so long as their actions are not undertaken by any means that would constitute a criminal offense.
Also signed into law were House Bills 5070 and 5071, now Public Act Nos. 224 and 225, which define “squatting” as the occupation of a single or two family dwelling without consent. Squatting is a criminal offense and is classified as a Class G property crime. For a couple of recent squatting nightmares in the news:
If you have any questions about this legislation and its impact on landowners please give a Foster Swift attorney a call.