The Truth About Evictions in Utah
By Paul Smith, Executive Director Utah Apartment Association
December 14, 2020
A recent Salt Lake Tribune Article has made claim that hundreds of renters were evicted each month this year in Utah during a pandemic “despite a ban” on evictions. To see the article for yourself, go to https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/12/12/landlords-evict-hundreds/comments/#twt-comments . Note that the title of the story is false – there has never been a complete ban on evictions during this pandemic.
As a rental housing professional, you need the facts to help you address concerns and clarify falsehoods. This article has been created to help you understand the truth and combat the falsehoods, not just in this article, but in the general misperceptions and false conceptions surrounding evictions.
First – The Truth About Eviction Bans
There has never been a complete “eviction ban” in Utah. The state moratorium in April and May was partial, the federal Cares Act provisions on evictions (which were partial) ended in August, and the “so called” CDC moratorium does not prohibit evictions, it only creates a “defense” for people who are late on rent AND meet certain criteria.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) order on evictions applies to all residential rentals in the United States. It does not prevent evictions, as some believe. To qualify for the “defense”, or way to stop/pause an eviction until January 1, 2021, tenants must provide their landlord a statement that attests:
They have an income of less than $99,000 per year (or $198,000 for couples filing jointly) or they received a stimulus check;
They have sought out government assistance to make their rent payment and still cannot pay;
They are unable to pay rent for a COVID-19 related reason;
They are making their best effort to pay rent; and
They are likely to become homeless or move in with others if evicted.
The CDC order only applies to evictions for non-payment. Types of evictions that are excluded in the order include those for criminal activity, violation of contract or rules, and end of term notices. The CDC order allows late fees and attorney’s fees to be charged and collected, if renters force their landlord into taking legal action.
If a tenant can’t pay, they need to provide the landlord a statement of the above 5 things. Since there is a “landlord housing assistance payment” program, to meet criterion 4, they would need to cooperate with the landlord in applying for this money, which is sent directly to the landlord to satisfy the past due rent. If tenants don’t provide this statement or communicate to landlords, it is likely landlords will serve notices and start evictions, just like normal.
No renter who provides this statement and works with the landlord to receive rental assistance has been, or will be evicted. The evictions for non-payment that are moving forward are doing so because the tenant is refusing to communicate with, or work with the landlord, or seek readily available rental assistance.
Remember – judges sign off on all evictions. So, anyone who claims landlords are violating the law or finding loopholes is just inaccurate. Laws protect both sides, and when renters refuse to comply with contracts, communicate with or work with their landlord, the law protects property owners by removing violating renters from that property. Renters have due process, opportunities to correct and negotiate. But if they don’t, the eviction will ultimately be granted.
It is one thing to believe eviction laws should be more favorable to renters. But it is another to falsely allege landlords are doing illegal or “wrong” things simply because you disagree with the balanced and clear landlord/tenant laws in the state of Utah.
Evictions are down 40% since Covid
There are those who are trying to use this pandemic to advance their agendas. Some people are trying to enact more favorable laws for renters during this time. That is fine. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The facts are, in Utah, we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, lost fewest jobs of all states in the country during this pandemic, and re-gained those jobs faster than any state in the country. At the end of October, Utah had a 4.1% unemployment rate compared to 6.9% nationally and has an economy in excellent shape. Most of the 300,000 renter households have been able to pay rent during the pandemic. Rent payment rates are within 1% of normal. There has been over $26 million in state rental assistance distributed to renters affected by Covid. Practically anyone in need gets approved. We will be down 30% on evictions in 2020 – over 2,000 less than a normal year. There is simply no “eviction” crisis.
It is true we fear a considerable number of evictions in January because so many renters have been using the confusion of the pandemic and these federal eviction laws to avoid paying rent and justify their refusal to work with landlords to find solutions. Again, there has been so much rental assistance, anyone who really needs help is getting it. Unfortunately there are thousands of renter households who are “frozen” and are not working on resolving things. In January, we expect many will get notices, and if they don’t resolve their issues, we expect evictions will be filed. We hope all renters resolve their issues without forcing an eviction. If they refuse to resolve, the legal remedy in Utah is an eviction so the landlord can get the property back and start over with a customer who will pay and follow the rules. We hope there are none, but fear a spike caused by renter’s choices.
By the end of December, we expect that will have been 30% less (2,161) evictions this year than a normal year. We hope renters choose to be responsible and evictions will trend down in the future too. Evictions are lose/lose and we hope to see as few in the future as possible
Summary and Conclusion
It is natural to feel defensive when your industry is attacked. Rental Housing Providers should take a deep breath and recognize attacks and misinformation for what they are – attempts to drive an agenda that we simply disagree with.
Landlord/Tenant law in Utah is balanced. We as an industry, and the UAA have done much to protect renters by including very favorable provisions for renters in state statute and, in some cases, creating rights and protections for them they did not previously have.
Housing providers have really been heroes in this pandemic. From working with renters while they figured out solutions to catch up rent, to implementing contactless processes and protective maintenance routines. We should not feel bad about our industry or think others in the industry and are being untoward. We should be proud of what we as housing providers do for and contribute to this great state!
Also coming soon there are Federal Grants to help with attorneys if in fact there is an eviction. . . . contact the State Bar Association with more information