The Paletz Law Blog

What Is Rent Anyway?

March 17th, 2017 | By: Ian T. Morton, Esq.
money in hand

You wouldn’t think it would be hard to agree on what the word “rent” means. But then you’ve never been a landlord renting a property to a tenant and been in front of a judge trying to get that property back.  If you were to ask a tenant what “rent” is, they would probably say it’s the dollar amount they pay every month.  However, in many circumstances, it goes beyond that. The question really becomes what is collectible as rent? The answer lies within the rental agreement itself and the laws of the state where the rental unit resides.

When a landlord sends out a past due notice on a rental balance, they are seeking the “rent”. However, if you have ever been a landlord or tried to collect it, you know how difficult the word can be to define. The dictionary defines “rent” as: (1) to pay money in return for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else); (2) to allow someone to use (something) in return for payment; (3) to be available for use in return for payment: to be for rent.

So according to Merriam-Webster, which we all rely on (along with Wikipedia of course), the tenant pays the landlord to use the property.  So, obviously the agreed upon payment along with anything that it costs the landlord to rent the property to the tenant is what must be paid as rent, right?  Not so fast!

If the lease fails to contain language that deems certain things as collectible as rent for purposes of eviction proceedings, items such as utilities, prior balances, recoupment of physical damages to the unit, or month to month fees could possibly be forfeited or necessitate the filing of a separate collection action. Also, other items, such as responsibility for bed bug and pest control costs, damages to common areas and clubhouses, and destruction caused by a tenant’s guests can also be difficult to recuperate during an action to regain possession of the premises.

Likewise, as it relates to recovery of legal fees in a dispute arising under a rental agreement, Michigan for example, does not allow for the tenant to reimburse the landlord beyond the statutory amount.  However, you may ask for additional legal fees and trial fees depending on the circumstances.  But if there is nothing in the lease to support this, then it might be as challenging as it is for the Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns to get to the Super Bowl.

The Bottom Line: So what is rent?  Outside the laws of each individual state, the rental agreement itself is the most important tool a landlord has to define what is and what is not rent.  If the law allows, the lease should always say at a minimum, a tenant is responsible for utilities, recovery of damages and costs and fees within the context of an eviction proceeding.

The information contained in this article is only meant to be a basic overview and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers should not act upon this information without the advice of an attorney. The contents are intended for general information purposes only and may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or otherwise be disseminated without the prior written consent of Paletz Law.

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