The following is a guide meant for a tenant whose landlord has failed to maintain the conditions required by the Utah Fit Premises Act.
Do Not Stop Paying Rent!
A mistake I see far too often is a tenant thinking a breach by the landlord, especially a failure to maintain a habitable rental unit, automatically relieves them of the obligation to pay rent. This is a very dangerous assumption. The Utah Fit Premises Act requires a notice period BEFORE you may abate rent (i.e. stop paying). In fact, if you are not current your rent and other lease obligations, you loose the right to even send a notice to the landlord.
Serve a Written Notice of Deficient Conditions
Landlord/Tenant law is filled with mandatory notice requirements: the most common being a failure to pay rent notice required before a tenant may be evicted. Under the Utah Fit Premises Act, the must first serve the landlord with a "Notice of Deficient Conditions." There are two types of deficient condition notices: a three day notice (for issues of habitability) and a ten day notice. You may only use a three day notice for problems that effect habitability or safety (e.g. no power, water, or heat). If you issue is less serious, you should serve a ten day notice. The notice must be specific in describing the problem so the landlord knows what needs to be fixed in the three or ten day notice period. For a good notice template, see the link to Utah Legal Services' form below.
Wait for the Notice Period to Expire
Your landlord has the right to correct any problems raised in the notice within the three or ten day notice period. If the landlord fails to do so, you officially have a claim under the Fit Premises Act and can start taking legal action. The Act gives you two options at this point: (1) terminate the lease and move out, or (2) repair the problem and deduct the costs from your rent.
Do Repairs First Then Deduct Rent
Tenants have to be mindful of what the "repair and deduct" option means; many tenants assume they can start withholding rent until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. However, before you can deduct rent you must fix the deficient condition yourself. Once you've done the repairs, you then withhold ONLY the actual repair costs from your rent. If you withhold more rent than the cost of the repairs, you will have breached the lease and might face eviction.
Be Prepared for Legal Action
Odds are your landlord will not be happy that you have moved out or withheld some rent. Your landlord may even try to evict you. Be sure to have all your records in order to prove you are in complete compliance with your lease agreement and that you followed the notice requirements of the Utah Fit Premises Act. Even if your landlord does not take legal action, you may decided to do so to recover your deposit and any losses you experienced as a result of the deficient condition. It is best to consult with an attorney before filing any legal action.
Additional resources provided by the author
Below is a link to the Utah Fit Premises Act which you should read carefully before taking any action.
Utah Legal Services has prepared a wonderful guide for tenants in bad housing which includes examples of a proper Notice of Deficient Condition. A link to the guide is found below.
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