Written Lease Should Use Clear Language
Utah residential rental lease agreements can be oral or in writing but you significantly increase the risk of disputes or disagreements with your tenants if it is oral. Also, courts will have a difficult time determining which oral terms apply as well as the agreed duties and responsibilities of each party. You can prevent this possibility by having a written rental agreement that is thorough and which clearly defines your and your tenants’ rights and responsibilities.
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As a landlord, you have certain obligations to your tenants and must abide by state and local housing and building codes as well as discrimination in housing laws. For instance, you may not treat tenants differently nor refuse to rent to anyone based on color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, sexual orientation, source of income or disability. You can refuse a rental application of someone with poor credit, bad or no references, a history of evictions, insufficient income or who has been convicted of a crime.
Your responsibilities as a Utah landlord include:
- Providing and maintaining a residence that is fit and habitable—make necessary repairs regarding conditions that affect the tenant’s health and safety
- Keeping common areas free of trash and ensuring the areas are sanitary and safe
- Maintaining electrical, plumbing, heat and air conditioning systems in good condition as well as supplying hot and cold water
- Maintaining other appliances and facilities as contracted in your lease
- For buildings with 2 or more rental units, supplying trash receptacles and a method of trash removal
- Providing a move-in and move-out checklist
- Obtaining a rental license if your city requires it
Tenants also have certain basic responsibilities:
- Paying the rent on time
- Complying with building and health codes
- Keeping the unit clean and properly disposing of trash
- Using electrical, plumbing, sanitary and other systems and facilities in an appropriate manner
- Refraining from damaging, altering or modifying the unit
- Using the unit for the purposes intended
- Complying with the lease terms and rules
- Obeying the law
- Allowing entry by the landlord at reasonable time upon appropriate notice to make repairs
- Not interfering with the rights of other tenants to the peaceful enjoyment of their units
Contents of the Lease Must Not Conflict with Utah Law
Your Utah residential lease agreement is a contract between you and your tenants and its terms are binding so long as they do not conflict with state law or local ordinances. For many leases, you need to be explicit regarding certain procedures or your intent may not be understood and you could not be in compliance that could cost you money. Also, you must give a copy of the rental lease agreement to your tenants before they take possession and obtain a receipt or include a receipt provision in your lease.
The following contains certain required provisions in your lease as well as optional ones that you should consider:
- Name of landlord and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid and where request for repairs are to be directed (Required provision)
- Names of the tenants and other occupants—have all adult tenants sign the lease
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Amount of rent, due date, and grace period—any late fees imposed must be reasonable—you may require prepaid rent
- Rent increase—15 days before new rental period or term begins
- Returned check fees—$20
- Security deposit—no limit on deposit, no requirement regarding interest or that it be deposited in a separate account—the deposit or any portion of it may be nonrefundable so long as this is so stated in the lease and in any receipt given to the tenant; return deposit within 30-days of tenant vacating unit so long as you have a forwarding address, or 15 days after receiving forwarding address, or send written, itemized statement with specific reasons for withholding any portion of the deposit
- Cleaning deposit—specify that it may be used to clean a dirty rug or kitchen
- Signed, separate statement of the premises’ move-in condition including list of current damages to be given to tenant and signed by tenant after inspecting premises—required
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance and of services provided as indicated above—consider allowing yourself 30-days to perform repairs once written notice is given to you by the tenant
- Obligations of tenant as noted above—you may include rules of conduct or others that are for the convenience, peace, safety and welfare of all the tenants
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No commercial, business or unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas, ask for deposit
- Subletting clause
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants—24-hours’ notice is required but you can have a lesser period. You may enter immediately if it is an emergency that threatens the safety or health of tenants
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations and right to collect attorney’s fees
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both of you must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
The rental lease agreement may not contain certain provisions since they conflict with state laws. These include:
- Waiving the right to sue or to seek damages against the landlord or other statutory remedies granted to tenants
- Confessing judgment on a claim arising out of the lease
- Limiting landlord’s liability
- Allowing eviction without a court order
- Allowing entry by landlord at any time for any reason
Security Deposits – Can Be Nonrefundable if Stated
Utah landlords may charge whatever they wish as a security deposit and state that it is nonrefundable. If you do not state this in the lease, then it is refundable. To ensure no dispute over this, have the tenants initial this clause.
There is no requirement that any funds that are refundable be deposited separately or in an interest bearing account. You may want the funds to be refundable to encourage the tenant to leave the unit in the same condition as it was when first leased. You also must give your tenants a move-in checklist regarding the condition of the unit and any damages that exist. It is highly recommended that you conduct a mutual inspection of the unit with your tenant and have the checklist signed by you and your tenant.
Upon request by the tenant after vacating the unit you must return the refundable deposit within 30-days or within 15-days after the tenant gives you a forwarding address, whichever time is later. Again, you should consider inspecting the unit with your tenant shortly before or just after the tenant has vacated.
If you intend to withhold any portion of the deposit, send an itemized list of the damages and costs to repair within the 30-days and advise the tenants they have 15-days to object or the funds will be withheld. Your failure to follow these procedures forfeits your right to retain any portion of the deposit.
Termination Notices and Procedures
No notice is required to terminate a fixed term lease as it expires on the stated last day. Should circumstances arise where you want a tenant to vacate early, you can mutually agree to termination at any time.
A fixed term lease will become a month-to-month lease if you allow the tenant to remain after the lease expires unless you have an automatic renewal provision so that the lease remains a fixed term for the following period of time indicated, usually 6-months or one year. Include a provision for the tenant to give you 30-days’ notice before the lease expires of an intent to vacate. You can increase the rent by giving 15-days’ notice before the end of the rental term if it is a monthly lease unless you indicate otherwise in your lease.
To terminate a monthly lease for no cause, either you or your tenant must give 15-days’ notice.
For nonpayment of rent or for any other violation of the lease, you must give a 3-Day Notice to Quit. A lease violation may include criminal activity, subleasing without your consent, having unauthorized tenants or pets, damaging the unit or chronically disturbing other tenants. You can allow the tenant to remedy the breach or nonpayment within the 3-days, or at anytime after if you wish, or begin eviction proceedings if the tenant refuses to leave when the 3-day period expires.
There is no requirement that you mitigate your losses should the tenant vacate early in violation of the lease or that you take reasonable steps to find another suitable tenant, though you will likely have to take court action to recover any unpaid rent from the vacating tenant.
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, any tenant who is a member of the Armed Forces including any of the uniformed services can terminate a fixed term lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days and a copy of the orders is given to the landlord. This also applies if the tenant is ordered to reside in government-supplied quarters. The tenant is required to give 30-days’ notice and to pay for the remainder of that month’s rent but with no further obligations under the lease. The lease will terminate 30-days after the notice is given.
Domestic Violence Exception Protects Women and Children
A tenant who is a victim of domestic violence and is in compliance with all provisions of your rental agreement may terminate it early provided certain conditions are met. The tenant must give you written notice of termination along with a copy of a protective order or police report that indicates the tenant has been a victim and not a perpetrator. From the date the notice is provided to you, the tenant is obligated to pay rent equivalent to 45 days, or a month and a half.
If the tenant requests, you must change the locks though it is at the tenant’s expense.
Repair and Deduct/Rent Abatement
There are circumstances where a tenant may withhold a portion of the rent to use for repairs or use the remedy of rent abatement. These remedies are available only if the tenant has complied with all lease terms.
If a condition occurs that is a deficient condition, or one that renders the premises uninhabitable or violates a requirement of the landlord under the lease, and it was not caused by the tenant or a guest of the tenant, then the tenant must send written notice of the specific condition to the landlord and the remedy chosen. You are given 3-days to correct the condition if it involves habitability, and 10-days for any other violation of the lease that affects the tenant’s use of the unit.
If you do not perform the corrective action within the statutory period, then the tenant may:
- Abate the rent, terminate the lease and receive the entire security deposit as well as a prorated refund for any prepaid rent and vacate within 10-days
- Or, choose to repair and deduct from the rent the cost of correcting the deficiency and submit copies of repair receipts to you within 5-days after the beginning of the next rental period—the repair costs cannot exceed two month’s rent
A Utah residential lease agreement can be complicated as can the procedures regarding termination, deposits and notices. Strict compliance is necessary or you may have to pay for damages, lose certain remedies or incur penalties. It is always best to work with your tenants to resolve differences and to see that your rental units are kept in good condition, that all appliances and other systems are functioning and that you and your tenants are in compliance with all relevant laws and ordinances. If you have any concerns about your lease, rights and obligations, contact a Utah landlord/tenant attorney.