A proposal from a State Senator would add 24 days to an eviction, cost $1,120 more each and remove treble damages provisions from Utah Law.
The balance in Utah Landlord/Tenant law is threatened by a new proposal to extend the length of an eviction by 24 days and to remove treble damages provisions, according to UAA Executive Director, Paul Smith.
"A State Senator reached out to us very early in the process (the 2017 legislature begins in January) about changing the eviction statute to favor tenants. He says a constituent brought him concerns and he wanted our input in drafting solutions. We are very appreciative that he sought our feedback on his bill," said Smith.
Smith continued, "the proposal is preliminary and the industry should be concerned, not panicked. There is plenty of time to work together for an acceptable bill. There are some concerns raised by the Senator and his constituent that we can likely compromise on as long as their goal is like ours - to maintain balance.
The industry has worked very hard to have a balanced landlord tenant process in Utah. Balance to us means that if a landlord or a tenant violates the contract, the opposing party can serve a three day notice to comply and receive a quick remedy."
For tenants that means if certain things like plumbing or heat or hot water break and repairs aren't made, they can serve a three day notice to the landlord. If the landlord does not comply they can repair themselves (or hire it out) and deduct the cost from future rent, or they can break their lease, move and get their prepaid rent and deposit back. That is a quick remedy.
For landlords it means if rent isn't paid or there's contract violations they can serve a three day notice and if the tenant doesn't comply or move they begin an eviction. That is also a quick remedy (although the eviction does take another three weeks).
The opportunity to cure in both cases is three days. That should be sufficient time for a landlord to get a furnace repair ordered or for a tenant to get rent paid or move.
Utah's philosophy on this currently is quick resolution for both sides. Neither party can take advantage of or continue to damage the other party very long. And that's good public policy in our opinion.
Smith said, "one potential area of compromise is over the service of notice for serving three day notices, which hasn't been updated in 40 years.
UAA already says only use two of the four legal options. These folks want to change the rule that allows service to be made on only one roommate if there are multiple. There is a good reason for this, since each roommate is jointly and individually liable and it’s not feasible to track them all down separately. We are open to discussing modern ways of serving notice.
We are not likely to support extending the eviction process by any length of time. The eviction process averages 21-25 days, which we think is already long enough. We also would fight an effort to repeal treble damages provisions.
Treble damages currently are another example of balance. If a landlord damages a tenant, they also must pay treble damages. I'm aware of a case where a landlord violated the abandoned property law and threw away a tenant's possessions. The itemized value was $11,000. Utah law imposed treble damages so the landlord had to pay the tenant $33,000.
Likewise, if a tenant doesn't pay and stays, forcing a landlord to do a costly legal action to get the apartment back, they will have to pay triple the damages they cause. One of the most important components of the unlawful detainer process nationwide is the concept of punitive damages. A tenant receives a notice that they need to fix a problem (like to get rid of an unauthorized pet or pay their rent) within three days or move or they will incur punitive damages of three times rent. "We feel stripping that provision that is common nationwide, would send the message that complying with your rental contract wasn't really important and lead to many, many, times, more eviction actions and losses to landlords."
According to Smith extending the eviction time actually hurts everyone. The judgment against the tenant will be bigger. The neighbors who are often burdened with criminal activity or peaceful enjoyment issues have to wait longer. The landlord is out more money for the additional time.
"For us there's no balance in giving someone who is in violation of their contract, whether it's a landlord or tenant more time," Smith said.
Evictions by the numbers:
• 300,000 rental units in Utah, about 120,000 are single family homes
• 80% turnover a year means 240,000 deposit depositions (where landlords and tenants might disagree about charges)
• Over 100,000 three day notices served annually (90% are complied with and don’t result in eviction)
• 10,000 evictions
• The bill adds 24 more days to do each eviction, so neighbors and communities who are suffering peaceful enjoyment/criminal issues from tenants have to wait longer for resolution
• At average rent of about $1,400, 24 additional days to evict results in $1,120 additional loss per eviction, or $11.2 million a year
• Tenants who are evicted will have a larger judgment against them because the process took 24 days longer, leading to longer garnishments and a harder time finding a new place to live
• Removing the treble damages provision, intended as an incentive for tenants to comply without having to be evicted, common in state eviction statutes, would likely lead to more evictions.