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Detroit's 36th District Court will resume in-person hearings for landlord-tenant cases

The 36th District Court in Detroit
36th District Court, via Facebook
The 36th District Court in Detroit

Detroit’s 36th District Court will resume in-person proceedings for landlord-tenant cases. Virtual hearings will no longer be an option.

City officials say the change in one of the busiest courts in Michigan is meant to address the influx of cases on the landlord-tenant docket, but advocates say it will make getting to a court hearing a lot harder for some folks.

Ted Phillips is the executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition, the organization working with Detroit’s Office of Eviction Defense to provide legal services to low-income Detroit residents facing eviction or foreclosure.

“We're asking people to come down to the 36th District Court, pay $10 for parking, take a day off of work if they're working, get childcare for their kids to find out — and then and probably not have access to an attorney because there's so many cases that we can't get to everybody — and all they're going to find out is when their next hearing date is. That’s crazy,” Phillips said.

In a statement, the City of Detroit said attorneys will be in court to help any resident who's there to fight an eviction notice.

Phillips suggested that the 36th District Court at least consider making the first court hearing, where tenants can meet lawyers and find out more information about their next hearing, a virtual option.

Tenants facing eviction who do not show up for court could end up with a default judgment and eviction as a result.

“Overall, it has been much more convenient for the parties to be able to appear in court virtually than it has been than it was for them to appear in person. So I think there is a huge risk of defaults going up, particularly after everyone's gotten used to the virtual hearings,” Phillips said.

Prior to 2019, 46% of cases ended with default judgments he said. During the pandemic, with virtual hearings, that dropped to 25%. Phillips said he expects defaults to go up once again with required in-person hearings.

“While our goal is to resume virtual hearings at some point in the future, it is necessary to return to in-person landlord/tenant matters at this time. The court has recently experienced a sizable increase in filings,” Chief Judge William C. McConico said in a news release earlier this month. “In-person hearing allows our staff to process this documentation and distribute any necessary paperwork to parties in real time.”

Phillips, though, worries about the influx of people who will now be in the courthouse during the waning of the pandemic.

He’s also concerned about the lawyers offering free legal aid to low-income Detroiters facing eviction and how they will handle the crowds of people. He said it's not clear where the lawyers will be and how much space they’ll be given to work with.

In a Facebook post, Tonya Myers Phillips, project leader for the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition, which pushed to pass the ordinance providing free lawyers for low-income Detroiters facing eviction, said getting to the court "is very challenging for a lot of our citizens.”

“It always was and there's nothing about June 5 that will all of a sudden make it easier for anybody to get there.”

June 5 is the date that in-person hearings will begin for 36th District Court landlord-tenant cases.

If you have an upcoming hearing scheduled, city officials say to refer to your Notice to Appear for information on when and where to appear. They say if you originally received a notice for virtual hearings that have been changed to in-person, call the 36th District Court to clarify any uncertainty beforehand at 313-965-2200.

To look up your court hearing details, click here.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.