Bad Housing

If your landlord does not fix something that needs to be repaired, you have options. But be careful, you could end up getting evicted if you don’t follow the proper steps. Call Utah Legal Services to answer any questions about how to proceed.

Below are common questions and answers about bad housing.

What is my landlord required to fix?

The Fit Premises Act is the Utah law that governs housing conditions. Under this law, a landlord must provide safe and livable housing. This means the landlord must rent housing that is up to code. A faulty toilet, no hot water, a broken staircase, bare electric wires, and dangerous holes in the floor are all examples of things a landlord must fix. Your lease might include other items your landlord is responsible for fixing, such as appliances. Look to your lease to see what is covered. If you break something in your apartment or cause damage to the rental, you may have to pay for the repairs.

Something needs to be fixed. What do I do?

Let your landlord know right away. It is best to tell your landlord in writing of any needed repairs. Speaking to your landlord may not be enough to protect your rights. Your lease may state how you are supposed to tell your landlord about repairs. Once your landlord is notified, set up a time for the repairs to be made.

Do not assume that the landlord knows about a condition just because it was there when you moved in. If you notice something that needs to be repaired when you move in, be sure to put this in writing so you cannot be held responsible for the issue later. 

The landlord has not fixed the issue, what do I do to get them to fix it?

If the landlord refuses to fix a major problem in your rental, you may want to use a “Notice of Deficient Conditions.” You can find this notice, along with an explanation, at the bottom of this page. Only use this notice for problems that make your housing unsafe or unsanitary, including:

  • No hot water,
  • A leaking toilet,
  • Broken windows,
  • Heating issues,
  • Electrical problems, etc.

Using a “Notice of Deficient Conditions”

To use the “Notice of Deficient Conditions,” fill out what needs to be fixed and check which action you will take if the repair is not made. After you fill out the notice, give it to your landlord and keep a copy for yourself. Once you give your landlord this notice, they may make the repairs, refuse to make the repairs, or end your lease because your housing is not fit to live in.  

YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU WHEN YOU USE THE NOTICE OF DEFICIENT CONDITIONS: Rent Abatement or Repair and Deduct.

What is Rent Abatement?

Under rent abatement, no rent is due beginning on the date you give the Notice of Deficient Conditions to your landlord. This can be tricky, as the tenant must be current with all duties in the lease, including rent. A landlord may start an eviction case against you if you have not paid your rent.

If your landlord does not take any steps to make the repairs within the time given, your tenancy will end. Your landlord will have to return to you rent from the day you gave the notice to the end of the month. You will then have 10 days to move out of your unit. Only use this option if moving out is something you can do. If you cannot move out, you may lose some protections.

What is Repair and Deduct?

Repair and deduct allows you to deduct the cost of repairs from your future rent payment if the landlord fails to make the repairs within the time on the notice.  After the repairs are made, you must give your landlord copies of the receipts for the repairs. Receipts need to be given to your landlord within 5 days of when the next rent payment is due.

If you deduct the repairs from your rent, the landlord may say the repairs were unnecessary and may start an eviction case against you for not paying rent. Again, you may win the case, but an eviction case is risky and can hurt your ability to get future housing even if you win.

With repair and deduct, you cannot deduct more than the amount of two months’ rent even if the repair costs more. 

Other options: calling the building inspector, Small Claims Court, mediation, etc.

You have other options to get your landlord to make repairs, such as calling the local health department or building inspector, suing in Small Claims Court, or stating you will end your tenancy.

Sometimes calling the local health department or building inspector and having them inspect will get the landlord to make repairs. If the inspector finds code violations, the landlord will be ordered to fix the problems. If the problems are so bad, the inspector may condemn your housing. If this happens, you may be forced to leave. Your landlord cannot evict you for calling the building inspector. This is a retaliatory eviction and is illegal in Utah, but this can be difficult to prove in court. Make a note in a calendar to preserve the date and time you called the inspector to prove later that you did.

If the landlord does not respond to a written demand for the repairs to be made or from calling the inspector, you can sue your landlord in Small Claims for any inconvenience you suffered or any expenses you had. The judge in Small Claims CANNOT order the landlord to make repairs. It is for money only.

If you are a month-to-month tenant, you can also give your landlord a written notice that you will end your tenancy if the repairs are not made. Look to your lease (even if it expired) to see how much notice you must give to your landlord before you can end your month-to-month tenancy. It may be 30 or 60 days. If you do not have a lease agreement, you need to give at least a 15 day notice. If your landlord still does not make the repairs after this notice, you can move.

Finally, you may want to consider mediation. Mediation is a process where you meet with your landlord and a third party, called a mediator, to try to work out a solution. Your landlord might not agree to go to mediation, but it can save both you and the landlord time and money. For mediation help in the Salt Lake valley, call the Salt Lake Community Action Program at 801-359-2444. For mediation help throughout the state, call Utah Dispute Resolution at (877) 697-7175. Both programs offer free help to low-income Utahns.

What if the problem is so bad, I can’t live in the apartment any longer?

This is sometimes called a constructive eviction. A constructive eviction is when the conditions in your housing are so bad you are forced to move out. If your housing has serious problems and your landlord will not fix, you do not have to stay if it is not safe. Serious problems include:

  • No running water
  • Sewage backing up in unit
  • Flooding in unit
  • No working furnace
  • Major electrical problems, etc.

A landlord has a duty to fix major problems. If the problems are dangerous, you can give the landlord notice by any means possible, including by telephone. The landlord has 24 hours to start making the repairs after you give them notice. If your landlord refuses to fix major problems in your housing, you can break your lease and move. If you do this, the landlord may take you to court for rent they believe you still owe. But, if the conditions were so bad you could not live there, a judge may find that you don’t owe anything.

Before you move out, you must give your landlord a chance to fix the problems. If you do not do this, a judge may order you to pay some rent. A judge could make you pay rent for the remainder of the lease if the judge finds you didn’t have a good reason to move.

If you continue to live in the unit, you still have to pay rent. If you do not pay rent, your landlord may evict you. You cannot get free rent because the conditions are bad. A judge will almost always make you pay some rent.

Call Utah Legal Services for more advice and help. Every case is different and it is best to get legal advice before you make any decisions.

 

Table of Contents

  1. Bed Bug and Cockroaches

Bed Bug and Cockroaches

I didn’t cause the bug infestation so the landlord must get rid of the bugs, right? 

Landlords often claim that the tenant caused the bug infestation. It is likely that some tenant caused the problem. Proving who did it is often very difficult or just impossible. Landlords have a duty to maintain habitable rental units. In some circumstances a landlord can be compelled to eradicate bugs by a local health department especially where multiple adjoining rental units are infested. But if a single unit is infested and the tenant has lived there for a long time, it will be easier for the landlord to pin the blame on that tenant. 

What causes bug infestations? 

Bugs survive by going where there’s food. Bed bugs can hitchhike in furniture or luggage (“suit cases”). Used mattresses and couches are often infested but the bugs may be very hard to see. Bed bugs can hide in piles of clothing and can lay dormant (“unfed”) for many months. Cockroaches are attracted to uncovered food and garbage. 

How can I prove I did not cause the bug infestation? 

Inspect first! If you discover bugs or other pests before you move any of your possessions into the rental unit, that’s the clearest proof you did not cause the problem. Notify the landlord immediately.  Statements from the last previous resident and nearby neighbors may also help. The longer a tenant lives in a place before discovering a bug infestation, the harder it is to prove that the tenant didn’t cause the problem. 

What can I do when I discover an infestation before or while moving in? 

If you see bugs before signing a rental agreement, do not sign the agreement even if the landlord promises to eradicate the bugs before you move in. If the landlord then refuses to hold the rental unit for you, the landlord may be doing you a favor. If you see bugs after signing a lease and as you are moving in, notify the landlord immediately and demand an on-site inspection. Take pictures. Capture sample bugs if you can. You may decide to immediately move out but giving the landlord a short opportunity to cure may be a better strategy. See our “Bad Housing” flyer. There is no guarantee that the landlord won’t pursue you for breach of the lease. And you may have to file in Small Claims Court in order to force the landlord to return your deposit and prepaid rent.  NOTE: No law requires a landlord to pay for temporary lodging while you look for another place to live. 

What if I discover a bug infestation after moving in? 

Report the infestation to your landlord and to your housing authority case worker if you have a rental subsidy. Good landlords will cooperate with tenants to get rid of the problem. The tenant must help. The rental unit should be thoroughly cleaned up. Piles of possessions like clothing must be removed or appropriately stored. If spraying is scheduled, it’s likely that kitchen cabinets must be emptied and furniture moved away from walls. Mattresses may need bug covers.  You should read our information on Bad Housing. Consider asking the landlord for a mutual termination of the lease. You may wish to contact your local health department, too. 

How do I contact my local health department? 

Call 211 (statewide information & referral) or go to this website for a statewide list: http://health.utah.gov/disparities/healthcareinutah/UtahProviders/LHD.pd... Most health departments will not come to inspect your rental premises. But if other tenants near you have also called or there have been prior contacts about your rental unit, the health department may contact the landlord. 

Can I be evicted for calling the health department? 

No. But if you are a month-to-month tenant, you are vulnerable to a “no cause” eviction. That is, the landlord can give you a written notice telling you to leave. No reason need be given and it is often impossible to prove unlawful retaliation even if the notice comes the day after you called the health department. 

Can I stop paying the rent if the landlord won’t eradicate the bugs? 

No. The one exception may come from giving the landlord a notice of deficient conditions under the Utah Fit Premises Act. In that notice, you could inform the landlord that if no substantial action is taken within 3 calendar days (the cure period) after the landlord receives that notice, you intend to move out within 10 days after the cure period. Depending on the circumstances even this action may not stop the landlord from pursuing you for breach of the lease. 

Can the landlord charge me for bug extermination? 

Generally no but some landlords ask or demand that tenants pay some or all of the extermination costs. Unless your rental agreement states otherwise, the landlord cannot pass this cost on to a tenant unless the landlord can prove the tenant caused the problem. If nearby tenants have the same problem, proving who caused the problem will be difficult. Do not sign any agreement to pay for extermination costs unless you admit causing the problem. But if one tenant has lived in the rental unit for some time and no adjoining tenants have the problem then the landlord might succeed in passing the cost on to the tenant. A landlord might make a demand for payment by giving an eviction notice: three-day pay or vacate or possibly three-day nuisance. If you get such a notice, call ULS right away.  

Can I force the landlord to pay for furniture, bedding or clothing I must get rid of? 

Generally no. If you can prove that the landlord knew of the bug infestation before you moved in and didn’t tell you then you may be able to recover the replacement cost of the destroyed items. However, most landlords don’t cause bug problems. A tenant who discards a bug-infested mattress must prove who caused the infestation in order to collect. This is no easier than the landlord proving which tenant caused the problem.