I was recently served a complaint stating I owe one year's rent on a housing lease I mistakenly renewed.I did not live on the property the whole year. When reading the contract, it states that this is a limited license housing agreement, not a lease. I was not made aware of this during signing, and management did not point out the difference to me during signing. The property is also advertised as a student apartment,and makes no obvious distinction that potential renters would be signing a housing license, not a lease. I was also never notified that I should contact an attorney prior to signing.
A "limited license housing agreement" may be an interesting attempt to get around landlord-tenant laws, typically associated with official student housing (e.g. this from Queens College CUNY). This facility near WMU is not overtly related to the university, but might be subcontracting for the university. At any rate, there is no special provision under Michigan law that exempts landlords from the provisions of the law in case they declare the contract to be an agreement as opposed to a lease. It is possible that this is copy-and-paste law that erroneously relies on provisions in landlord-tenant laws that exempt university housing agreements from provisions of a state's landlord-tenancy law.
You do not need to be informed that you should / could consult an attorney before signing a legal document: this knowledge is presupposed. It is also assumed that when you sign a document, you read the document. It is reasonably likely that the lease contained language like the following (from the above contract):
I have carefully read, fully understand and voluntarily sign this Housing Agreement. Once fully signed, this is a binding contract and is intended to be enforceable under its terms. I have had the opportunity to seek independent legal advice
The disclaimer "This Housing Agreement is not a lease and no tenancy, leasehold, possessory or other property interest in any specific apartment or bedroom is created" has dubious legal status. The rights given by the landlord-tenant act cannot be waived, under the Truth in Renting Act, so saying "this is not a lease" does not make the lease not a lease.
In Michigan there is a duty on landlords to mitigate loses when a premise is abandoned. The case Fox v. Roethlisberger, 85 N.W.2d 73 mentions such a possible duty in the context of tenancy is often cited on the web as establishing such a duty, but I disagree. Froling v. Bischoff, 252 N.W.2d 832 however establishes that there is such a general duty for any breach of contract (and even applies it to breach of a rental agreement). So whether or not you call it a lease, there is still a duty to mitigate losses.
In the scenario where you abandoned the unit and the landlord waited until the end of the year to file an action for breach of contract, they could have failed in their duty to mitigate their losses (but see Fox v. Roethlisberger, where landlord did make an effort to re-rent, and simply was not able to for 9 months).