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The City Journals

Do Murray renters have options to resolve apartment problems?

Oct 04, 2021 02:51PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

A Murray renter’s nightmare came true when a neighbor deliberately torched his Stillwater Apartment, causing 50 renters to be displaced. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

After 50 people were displaced July 1 at the Stillwater Apartments due to a neighbor deliberately setting fire to his unit with his barbecue, social media also went ablaze about renters feeling unsafe in their apartments. As Murray is home to several large apartment complexes, renters have access to information on what they can and cannot do with problem neighbors or landlords.

“Most apartment complexes thoroughly screen renters,” Executive Director Paul Smith of the Utah Apartment Association said. “Just because someone screens well does not mean they will behave perfectly or comply with contracts. Mental illness and societal woes affect renters as well as the general population. There are 300,000 renter households in Utah. Some simply choose to ignore the rules. It would not be appropriate to blame landlords for their behavior. Most apartment communities ban barbecues on balconies in the lease, and I am sure Stillwater did.”

With cameras now prevalent in every person’s phone and social media a convenient outlet, renters frequently post videos of problematic neighbors acting out, even violently.

“Much of the time, the neighbors know more about what is going on than the owners because the owner isn’t there all the time. If bad renters are violating the lease and disturbing others, they can be removed normally by eviction. As you know, the eviction rules and enforcement have been different the last 15 months, making it harder for landlords to deal with issues,” Smith said.

Depending on the offense, landlords, particularly large complex owners, follow guidelines spelled out in the renter’s contract. Before an eviction, a landlord may have to serve a notice of compliance for more minor nuisance issues. 

“Can neighbors force landlords to take action against someone they don’t like? No. In fact, the person they don’t like may be complying with the contract, and the landlord couldn’t evict them if they wanted. So, it’s more complicated, and there are more moving parts to these situations than appear at first glance,” Smith said.

Utah has landlord-tenant laws that both protect property owners and renters. One principle of landlord-tenant law is the opportunity to comply. For instance, if a tenant doesn’t pay rent or violates the rules, like disturbing others, the landlord cannot act until they serve a three-day notice giving the tenant a chance to fix it. If they don’t, an eviction can move forward. But the opportunity to fix it must be provided. 

Likewise, if a tenant has something break, like a furnace, state law allows them to serve a three-day notice to the landlord to begin repairs within three days. If the landlord doesn’t, the tenant can fix it themselves and deduct from rent or cancel the lease and move, getting any pre-paid rent back. They can’t do those things until they allow the landlord to fix them.

“The Fit Premises Act gives renters the right to serve a notice of uninhabitable premises and request work be done within a timeframe. If it isn’t started, the tenant can break the lease and move, or fix themselves and deduct from the contract,” Smith said.

However, not all building issues fall under the Fit Premises Act. For example, a property owner does not need to comply with cosmetic issues to the property, such as decorations.

“If it is safety issues, city code enforcement will force repairs. If it’s a habitability issue like heat, hot water, plumbing, A/C, or doors and window, the tenant can use the three-day notice. If it is a contract issue like leaky roof, broken garage door, things the contract calls for the owner to maintain, it’s a 10-day notice. There are many options depending on which issue it is,” Smith said.

To assist renters with learning more about resolving problems or serving notice with landlords, the UAA’s website, uaahq.org, has information listed under Tenant Resources. For safety issues, renters can contact the city code enforcement office.

“Tenants often don’t communicate issues early so they can be easily remedied. That’s my top tip— communicate,” Smith said.