Landlord and Tenant Laws- Utah Fit Premises Act

Renting out property or space in an existing home that is not being used can seem like an easy way to make some extra cash, but property owners and their renters should make certain they are in accordance with the landlord and tenant laws defined under the Utah Fit Premises Act.

Renter population

Photo by: Mark Moz

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 37% of households in the U.S. are renter-occupied. Of those households renting, 35% live in single-family homes, 18% live in 2-4 unit structures, 43% live in buildings such as apartments with 5 or more units, and 4% of renters live in mobile homes. With such a large percentage of households living in a structure owned by another person, there are laws in place to ensure that both landlord and tenant are protected while ensuring safe and clean housing.

Utah Fit Premises Act

The Utah Fit Premises Act found in Utah Code Title 57 Chapter 22 defines the duties associated with the owners of rentals in Utah as well as what is legally expected from their tenants. The owners or landlords can be those who legally possess the property in question or those who are hired as a “managing agent, leasing agent, or resident manager [who are] considered an owner for purposes of notice and other communication [unless otherwise stated]”. Utah Code 57-22-2 defines a renter as “any person entitled under a rental agreement to occupy a residential rental unit to the exclusion of others.”

Owner duties prior to rental agreement

According to the Utah Fit Premises Act, before an owner or manager of a property accepts a rental application fee, the owner should inform the potential renter whether or not a unit is even available and if a background check, credit check, verification of employment status, or other condition of rentals will be conducted that could disqualify the renter’s application from being accepted. Once an application is accepted, and prior to both parties signing a rental agreement, which is strongly encouraged, the owner must document the condition of the property, disclose it to the potential renters, and allow them a period of time to agree on the state of the unit. Owners may instead allow prospective renters to do a “walk-through” to inspect for damage or wear not included in the rental agreement. Upon signing the rental agreement, the property owner or lessor must include their contact information as well as a copy of the rental agreement and any rules associated with the property.

Living conditions of the property

Utah Code 57-22-3 states that the owner or rental management must “maintain that unit in a condition fit for human habitation [and that] each residential rental unit shall have electrical systems, heating, plumbing and hot and cold water.” Additionally, according to 57-22-4, “to protect the physical health and safety of the ordinary renter, an owner:
(a) may not rent the premises unless they are safe, sanitary, and fit for human occupancy; and
(b) shall:
(i) maintain common areas of the residential rental unit in a sanitary and safe condition;
(ii) maintain electrical systems, plumbing, heating, and hot and cold water;
(iii) maintain any air conditioning system in an operable condition;
(iv) maintain other appliances and facilities as specifically contracted in the rental agreement; and
(v) for buildings containing more than two residential rental units, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles for garbage and other waste and arrange for its removal, ( . . . ).”

If the tenant feels the property is in dangerous condition, the property owner shall take immediate action to repair or remedy the property within a corrective period or the rental agreement shall be terminated with the security deposit and any prorated amount given back to the renter. If the renter is the victim of a crime such as domestic violence or burglary, the property owner must comply with the tenant’s request for a lock change.

Renter’s duties

The tenants of rentals in Utah have their own rules to follow as well. According to Utah Code 57-22-5, renters must keep the premises clean and sanitary, cleaning up all garbage while complying with the rules of the board of health. They may not have more occupants than allowed and must “use all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, and other facilities and appliances in a reasonable manner”. They are expected to pay their rental payment on time and follow the rules outlined in their rental agreement which could include the prohibition of “smoking tobacco products within the residential rental unit, or on the premises, or both.” The tenants of a rental should not “destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the ( . . . ) unit”. They are not to “interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of [other nearby renters]” and must allow the owners or management entrance for necessary repairs.

Failure to comply

If the owner or tenant fails to comply with their duties defined by state law, the other party could take civil action against the other. If damage is done to property or if injury occurs due to negligence of another, criminal charges could arise.

DUI Arrests in Utah May Result in Ignition Interlock Device

When an individual in Utah is arrested for a DUI, they may end up sporting an ignition interlock device in their car to keep tabs on them and prevent them from reoffending.

DUI Charges

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Sonny Abesamis

Utah is soon to be the strictest state in regards to driving intoxicated when the BAC limit is lowered to .05% next December. When that occurs, anyone with a smidgeon of alcohol on their breath could face 48 hours in jail and a fine of $700 along with other screening and possible classes. Others, including those with subsequent offenses, minors, or those with high a high BAC may face greater challenges including loss of driver’s licenses and expensive ignition interlock devices.

Ignition interlock

An ignition interlock is an expensive device that is installed in a defendant’s vehicle for a determined amount of time following a DUI charge where according to Utah Code 41-6a-505 “there is admissible evidence that the person had a blood alcohol level of .16 or higher”. Ignition interlock devices may also be ordered by the courts if the driver was under the age limit to legally consume alcohol, repeat offenders, or for those who caused injury or death while driving intoxicated. ignition interlock is a built in breathalyzer, requiring drivers to blow into it to be able to start their vehicle. If the ignition interlock detects alcohol, it will not allow the vehicle to be started.

Record and report

Last year alone, ignition interlock devices were credited with stopping over 2,500 individuals from driving while intoxicated. Ignition interlocks do more than prevent a person from driving while intoxicated however. When the device detects alcohol, it electronically stores that information and shares it with the courts which could put a person in violation of their probation. Those who are facing a DUI charge or a probation violation after a failed attempt with an ignition interlock are encouraged to immediately seek counsel with an attorney to receive legal advice in how to proceed with their case.

Spanking – Parental Discipline or Child Abuse?

Spanking has a long history of being used as a form of discipline and while still a prevalent form of punishment in several homes throughout the United States, is mistakenly considered by many to be a form of child abuse.

Corporal punishment

Photo by: Wesley Fryer

Spanking is a way in which parents and other authority figures have used to punish children and minors into submission by inflicting physical pain to their body; usually the buttocks. This type of discipline is known as corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was used freely by any adult wishing to discipline a child up until the late 1970’s when spanking by anyone other than parents, such as teachers or school staff, started to receive criticism. 31 states have now banned corporal punishment in schools while the other 19 including Idaho and Arizona are either for it, or not openly against it. Corporal punishment at home is still allowed in all states to some degree.

Parental discipline

Although the number of adults who approve of spanking is on a steady decline nationwide, many parents and guardians still respond to their children’s unruly behavior by giving them a swat on the behind. Spanking is often done with an open hand but can also be done using items such as a belt or a switch, which usually inflicts more severe pain than a hand alone. While not all parents agree on spanking, a large number of adults believe spanking with an object is most certainly unlawful.

Belts and switches

The use of belts, switches and the like in carrying out corporal punishment at home may seem harsh, but they aren’t against the law. In B.T. and S.T. v State of Utah (2017), the parents of four children under the age of 18 were said to have been abused after the parents used belts to spank their children. The courts concurred with the abuse charges, stating “the court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.” They also acknowledged that the use of spanking was decreasing in popularity stating that “[w]e’ve evolved beyond it being appropriate to strike a child with an object” and “[t]he simple striking of the child with a belt caused pain and is abuse.”

Justification as defense

Contrary to the court’s original ruling, spanking children with or without a belt is not illegal under Utah law. In fact, Utah Code 76-2-401 states: “Conduct which is justified is a defense to prosecution for any offense based on the conduct. The defense of justification may be claimed: ( . . . ) when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of minors by parents, guardians, teachers, or other persons in loco parentis [unless] the offense charged involved causing serious bodily injury.” The parents the above mentioned case admitted to using a belt to discipline their children, however there were no physical signs of abuse visible from their discipline. The court later reviewed their ruling in which they claimed that hitting a child with an object is abuse and deemed it too vague, giving the examples of how a pillow fight or playing with Nerf swords would fall into the same definition. Utah Code 76-5-109 reiterates that child abuse means “those offenses that cause physical injury to the child” and not for conduct that includes “the use of reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child.”

Ineffective punishment

While spanking may be legal, pediatricians and researchers continue to discourage parents from using it as a form of punishment. Spanking is often done to stop unwanted behavior, such as disobedience and aggression, however current research has shown it to be ineffective, with unwanted behavior escalating instead of diminishing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also done studies regarding the connection between children who are punished physically and future mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. For those parents who have failed to learn and put into practice a more effective way of disciplining their children, they should ensure that any corporal punishment used in the home does not escalate to the point of child abuse and to consult with an attorney should any charges arise.