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If you’re a renter in Utah, here are the land mines you need to look out for in the lease agreement

Know what you’re agreeing to before you sign the dotted line.

(Rich Pedroncelli | AP file photo) This Monday, Jan. 8, 2017, file photo shows a "For Rent" sign outside an apartment building in Sacramento, Calif. Utah renters don't have a lot of rights and are subject to many "hidden fees." Make sure you know what the potential charges and other terms are before you sign a rental agreement.

This story is part of a continuing series on Utah evictions and the state’s leading landlord law firm. The following story was supported by a grant from The Economic Hardship Reporting Project and was written and researched by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, is trying for a second time to pass a bill allowing renters to recoup rental application fees if their landlord doesn’t disclose all the hidden charges in their lease agreement.

Even if HB68 passes the Senate, where it is awaiting a vote after winning overwhelming House approval, renters will still have to know what to look for in a lease agreement. With that in mind we’ve listed some of the most important fine print on fees and other terms renters should keep an eye out for.

Lease origination fee

Landlords get to charge you a paperwork fee just for signing a lease. Some renters have made the mistake of thinking that was the security deposit when it’s actually a completely separate fee.

Move-in discount

Did your apartment offer you a free month’s rent or a onetime discount on rent worth hundreds of dollars? Pay attention to the “monthly concession” box, likely at the end of the lease. This will warn you that if you are evicted the landlord gets to claw that discount back from you.

Contact info

Your lease might have a place for your phone number and email. But be warned, if you are evicted and don’t update your address with the court there is no guarantee that the contact information you provided will be used to warn you about any legal actions taken against you. By law, legal notices can be sent to your last known address even if that’s the apartment you were evicted from.

Utah courts provide help in updating your address and also provide information about tenants’ rights and resources when facing eviction.

Fees and interest

A standard lease form provided by the Law Offices of Kirk Cullimore, the No. 1 eviction law firm in Utah, states that “all amounts past due” will bear interest at 24% annually, compounded daily. The leases often allow for 40% debt collection fees to be added on top. The Cullimore firm also happens to do debt collections for many of the apartments they represent.

You can be evicted for being a crime victim

There are some exceptions like being a victim of domestic violence at housing receiving public assistance. But lease agreements generally state that you can be evicted if anyone at your residence — including a guest — commits a crime, or a perceived crime. A standard form states residents may be evicted “whether or not such activity is cited by a police authority.”

Your stuff can be sold without warning

Under a common Cullimore agreement landlords can sell your possessions to pay off rent, or if you have abandoned the apartment. The forms also say that “resident agrees to waiver of notice of the sale,” meaning you agree you don’t need to be warned if your property is going to be sold off.

No oral agreement

Did you have a verbal agreement or handshake arrangement with your landlord? Well, don’t count on it. Typical leases show the only agreement allowed is the written lease agreement. That works for you too, however, as your landlord will need to put it in writing if they plan to change the terms of your lease.

“Don’t ever trust your landlord,” says Martin Blaustein, a now retired attorney who represented countless eviction defendants through Utah Legal Services. “Treat landlords as if every day you’re in a lawsuit so get everything in writing. If you feel like you got a good relationship with your landlord — you don’t.”

Resources:

There are resources and groups that can offer help to renters who have been evicted, are in jeopardy of eviction or in need of other assistance:

Visit EvictedinUtah.com for a guide to locating legal and financial aid.

The state also has a 211 hotline for evicted tenants to connect them with rental assistance.

Utah Housing Coalition, utahhousing.org, 801-364-0077

Utah Legal Services, utahlegalservices.org, 801-328-8891

Utah Community Action, utahca.org/housing-case-management/, 801-359-2444

Utah Renters Together, utahrenterstogether.org, UtahRentersAssociation@gmail.com

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