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Would legalizing demands for payment by email improve collections?

If you've been a landlord in Michigan for long, you've probably had to deal with at least one eviction where you ended up losing money. One situation in which landlords lose out, however, may come as a surprise: Your noncompliant tenant leaves before you get a chance to serve an eviction notice.

Even when it's a relatively uncomplicated matter of unpaid rent, tenants who violate their leases can cause a lot of economic harm to landlords. Of course, evictions are needed in situations other than nonpayment -- some lease violations result in costly damage to the unit.

In most situations, your recourse as a landlord is eviction, which begins with a written demand for possession or payment. Under current Michigan law, this demand must be served either via first-class mail or given directly to the tenant (or to another suitable person).

But how do you mail out an eviction notice when you're tenant's last known mailing address is the apartment they just moved out of? Lack of a forwarding address can also affect personal service, potentially requiring a lot of persistence or even a professional process server.

A bill currently before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee seeks to make collecting rent or damages from an absconded renter a little bit easier. House Bill No. 4038 would revise Section 600.5718 of MCL Act 236 to make it legal to serve a demand for possession or payment by email.

Nowadays, most communication between landlords and tenants is via email, according to the president of the Detroit Metropolitan Apartment Association. Even when people may move, they typically keep their email addresses for a long time, so an email may actually be the most productive way for a landlord to reach a tenant.

Most landlords would probably agree that any additional way to reach a missing tenant would be advantageous, but will it work? The key point in court process service is to ensure that the person being served has actually received the notice. Will emailed eviction notices get stuck in spam filters? Can you be sure your tenant received the notice unless they email you back?

These are important concerns, especially if email process service becomes accepted in other types of lawsuits. How would you feel about receiving notice of a tenant lawsuit in your email?

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