October 07, 2018

OPINION: Renters’ Rights and Responsibilities

By Terry Marasco

As a renter, you are protected by Utah laws. The most important activity in maintaining those rights is to follow the obligations in your renter’s agreement, and if you are making a claim to your landlord, always do so in writing. Here are some renters’ rights from The Utah Housing Coalition’s (www.utahhousing.org) free renter toolkit:

1. Protection against discrimination;
2. Utah Fit Premises Act: Right to peaceful enjoyment, right to privacy — in limited circumstances, the landlord cannot enter your unit without notifying you (must give 24 hours; notice), and right to “habitable” living conditions. Landlord must begin repairs within three days of your written request for issues like unsanitary conditions, deficiencies with hot and cold water, deficient plumbing, deficient heating, among others;
3. Landlord must provide a three-day written notice before beginning eviction proceedings in court;
4. Right to file in small claims court to get back your deposit, and right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater, but the problem must be serious;
5. Protection against landlord retaliation for renters exercising a legal right, such as complaining about an unsafe living condition;
6. Special protections for renters who are victims of domestic violence;
7. Right to recover personal property abandoned by the renter, but the renter must pay back rent (if any) and transfer and storage costs of the property. If the renter fails to satisfy those costs, the landlord may sell the property to recover those costs;
8. Landlords can be held responsible for mold problems even absent specific laws governing mold.

What renters can do to protect themselves:

1. Always view a property, inside and out, room by room, before renting;
2. Read your rental agreement (a legally binding document) carefully before signing, and landlords can only enforce rules written in the lease;
3. Ask for a pre-rental inspection form to complete, and ask for an inspection list before you leave. Take pictures before renting and before leaving. Go over each with your landlord;
4. Pay rent on time, never with cash, always with a check or money order, and, if you think you are falling behind, discuss it with your landlord;
5. Don’t let someone live with you (human or animal) that isn’t on the lease;
6. Pay your utilities on time; if you don’t, you may be evicted;
7. Respect your neighbors; if you become a nuisance to your neighbors, you may be evicted;
8. Keep your yard and common areas clean;
9. Always communicate with your landlord in writing, especially if you receive an eviction notice; and,
10. Maintain your rental unit, treat the property like you own it! If repairs need to be made regarding damage caused by you, they can be deducted from your security deposit;

While renters have rights, they also have responsibilities. Utah’s laws favor landlords, so renters must be diligent in following the rules. As a good renter, an unreasonable landlord will have little defense if you need to take your issue to court.

Renter’s Resources