(Un)Fit To Be Tied(Up In Court): Utah's Fit Premises Act

Terry Jessop & Bitner Newsletter

Issue 34, July 2016

We frequently receive calls from tenants who want to know what remedies they have against a landlord who provides less-than-perfect premises. Tenants complain about conditions which range from inconvenient to unlivable. Many disputes could be prevented if landlords and tenants complied with the Utah Fit Premises Act. (UCA § 57-22-1, et. seq.)

Rights and Duties

The Act requires a landlord to deliver a residence that is safe, sanitary, and fit for human occupancy. For the duration of the lease, the landlord must maintain in good working condition the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems, and ensure that there is hot and cold water. While the landlord is not required to provide air conditioning, he must maintain any existing A/C system.

As for the tenant, she must not mistreat or damage the property. She must use the residence and equipment safely, clean up after herself, and comply with the terms of the lease. A tenant who causes the uninhabitable conditions for which she complains (other than normal wear and tear) may be denied the protection of the Act.

Deficient v. Dangerous

If a tenant believes the premises are unfit, the Act requires her to determine if the conditions are "deficient" or "dangerous." A deficient condition is one that affects the habitability of the property, while a dangerous condition poses a substantial risk of imminent loss of life or significant physical harm. Choosing between the two can be tricky. Each condition has different remedies.

For deficient conditions, a tenant must give written notice to the landlord of the problem. The landlord then has three days to begin work. Tenant must allow the landlord to enter the premises and fix the problem. The notice must state what remedy the tenant chooses in the event the landlord fails to act, i.e., either "rent abatement" or "repair and deduct." Under rent abatement, the tenant's duty to pay rent is terminated as of the day of the notice. The lease also terminates. The landlord must refund the security deposit and prorated rent, and the tenant must move out within 10 days. Under the repair and deduct remedy, the tenant may take whatever corrective action is necessary and deduct the cost from any rent due. Recoverable costs are limited to two months' rent. The tenant must keep all receipts and turn them over to the landlord at the start of the next rental period.

In the event of a dangerous condition, the tenant may give notice by any reasonable means, after which the owner must begin remedial measures within 24 hours. If the condition at issue renders the premises unfit for occupancy, the landlord is allowed to choose to not fix the problem and simply terminate the lease early, refunding any prorated rent and any security deposit owed to the tenant.

See You in Court-Or Not

If the landlord fails to fulfill his obligations, the tenant may file a lawsuit to enforce the chosen remedy, and seek an award of damages, court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. However, the tenant must be in compliance with the lease and must follow the Act precisely in order to prevail. Failure on either of these points will deny the tenant the right to any remedy under the Act. We can help both landlords and tenants take full advantage of the Fit Premises Act. Please give us a call.

© Terry Jessop & Bitner July 2016