SALT LAKE CITY — Whether landlords are dragging their feet on repairs or refusing to return a security deposit, renters do have rights — but they have to fight for them.
One complaint sent to KSL involved having problems getting a security deposit back.
“They (the landlord) will charge you for every little thing when you move out, from a little pinhole to a dirty stove burner pan,” the complaint states.
Martin Blaustein, an attorney for Utah Legal Services who handles rental issues for low income tenants, said the best way to avoid this common problem is to document everything about the rental within hours of moving in.
“Take photographs of the condition of the premises when you first move in,” Blaustein said.
He advised renters to inspect and photograph the walls, ceilings and floors in each room. They should check light fixtures, fans, the furnace, all the appliances – everything.
“Make certain your A/C works even though it is in the middle of winter because there might be a clause in that lease agreement saying you’ve got 48 hours to tell them,” Blaustein explained.
Repair and deduct
Another renter wrote to KSL to say she stopped paying rent altogether. She had lodged a complaint over cockroaches in her rental, but it was going nowhere. She ended up going through the eviction process.
The Utah Fit Premises Act says Utahns have a right to “repair and deduct.” If a landlord refuses to fix a serious problem, the renter can hire a pro to make the repair and then deduct the cost from the rent.
Before a repair and deduct can be completed, though, the act says tenants must be current on their rent. They also have to give their landlord 10 days to respond to a written notice. That number drops to three days if the problem affects the renter’s health.
“You have to document what the concern is, date it, sign it and keep a copy of it for yourself because the landlord doesn’t do that,” Blaustein said.
For proof, the letter should be delivered by hand and by certified mail.
The landlord still might take the tenant to court, so renters should have as much proof as possible. That means photographs, receipts, letters, everything.
“You want to be sure you can show what the property’s condition was when you moved in and what the condition is now,” stressed Blaustein. “You also want to be able to show you gave the landlord all these documents and written notices for the repair and that you did everything possible to get this landlord to comply with what your lease claims he or she is responsible for.”
The eviction process
A tenant locked out of her apartment by her landlord wrote, “We have to pay $720 to get out our belongings.”
Landlords cannot do that, Blaustein said, even with a three-day eviction notice. They are required to have a signed court order.
“Landlords have a responsibility to give a three-day notice,” he explained. “After that, they have to serve you with a summons and a complaint. It has to be a signed order of the court kicking you out.”
For tenants who do get locked out, Blaustein recommended they call the police.
“We (Utah Legal Services) instructed the police departments statewide, so they have memos to that effect,” said Blaustein. “Hopefully, they’ll say, ‘Is there a court order?’ If there’s no court order they’ll instruct the landlord that they can’t lock them (the tenant) out.”
It’s crucial to remember that ignoring any notice from the landlord will not help a renter’s case.