Tenants have rights in unsafe or unhealthy housing.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about habitability.
What can I do if the place I rent is unsafe or unhealthy to live in?
Utah law gives tenants two choices if a rental unit is unsafe or unhealthy.
1) A tenant can pay the rent and sue the landlord if repairs are not made after written notice is given.
If you pay your rent in full and the landlord doesn’t fix unsafe or unhealthy conditions after you give a notice in writing, you can sue to get your rent back - or part of it - because you could not fully use the place you rented. You may also sue for damaged property, such as furniture damaged by a leaky roof.
There also sometimes local city ordinances which may allow you to make repairs yourself and deduct the expenses from your rent. These ordinances are often called "Repair and Deduct" ordinances. Check to see if there is one in your area.
2) A tenant could withhold rent if a landlord fails to provide safe and healthy premises.
Withholding rent to force repairs is very RISKY. If you withhold rent, your landlord may start eviction proceedings. Choose non payment only if there are serious health and safety problems, and you have legal counsel. You must have your place inspected by a city building inspector or the health department. If the inspector finds conditions which threaten your health or safety, you must give written notice of the problems to your landlord.
If the landlord does not make repairs within a reasonable time, withhold your rent only if you have consulted with an attorney and you have building inspector or health department evidence. If the inspector does not find conditions which threaten your health or safety, DO NOT withhold rent. Instead, you should pay your rent and give your landlord written notice of the needed repairs. You can later sue for reimbursement of rent as explained above. If you are not certain what you should do, PAY YOUR RENT.
How can I protect myself if there are unsafe or unhealthy conditions where I rent?
Utah has passed a law called the Utah Fit Premises Act which states the rights and duties of both landlords and tenants in housing conditions. If the follow the law, you will have a much better chance of prevailing in a lawsuit over housing conditions. In order to recover damages or reimbursement of rent under this law, you MUST pay your rent. If you withhold rent, whether or not it is justified, you cannot sue your landlord under this statute. These steps from the law will help you build a strong case whether or not you decide to withhold your rent.
1) KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
a. Landlords have the following duties:
● maintain rental units in a condition fit for human habitation
● maintain electrical systems, heating, plumbing, and hot and cold water
● maintain common areas (areas shared by all tenants)
● maintain appliances and facilities as stated in the lease agreement
b. Tenants have the following duties:
● maintain the premises in a clean and safe condition● dispose of garbage in a clean and sanitary manner
● maintain all plumbing fixtures in as sanitary a condition as the fixtures permit
● use all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, and other facilities and appliances in a reasonable manner
2) GIVE WRITTEN NOTICE TO YOUR LANDLORD
a. Under this law you must give your landlord two written notices. Both notices must be served on your landlord in one of these ways:
● hand deliver a copy to the landlord directly or deliver a copy to the landlord’s home or place of business and leave a copy with an adult.
● send a copy through registered or certified mail
b. The first notice is called a Notice of Noncompliance. In this notice, describe all the conditions which need to be repaired. Tell the landlord exactly what is wrong and that you expect it to be fixed promptly. The landlord must correct the condition within a reasonable time. NOTE: A landlord is not required to repair any condition caused by the renter due to inappropriate use or misuse of the property. c. If the landlord fails to make repairs within a reasonable time (usually about two weeks), you should give your landlord a second notice called a "Notice to Repair or Correct Condition. The notice should state the following:
● the date of the previous notice given to the landlord
● the number of days which have passed since the first notice was given
● the conditions which have not been repaired or corrected
● make demand the conditions be corrected
● state the landlord has three days to make repairs or you will file suit in court. If the repairs are not done within three days after the notice is served on the landlord, you are entitled to bring an action in the district court.
3) HAVE THE PREMISES INSPECTED a. Contact your local building inspector or the board of health. They will inspect the premises and determine if the conditions are a threat to your health or safety. Make sure you obtain a written report from the inspector.
● attach a copy of the report to the notices you serve on your landlord ● keep a copy of the report as evidence
4) SAVE YOUR RENT MONEY
a. If you do decide to withhold rent, PUT IT ASIDE AND DO NOT SPEND IT! The court may require you to pay the rent into the court's trust account as a bond.
b. Save your rent in an interest bearing savings account or your attorney's trust account.
Where do I go for more information?
This flyer will give you a basic idea of what your rights are but it does not take the place of good legal advice. For more information, call Utah Legal Services at (801) 328-8891 in Salt Lake City, or 1-800-662-4245 if you are outside Salt Lake.The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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