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.
Utah renters finally have their “truth in renting” law after a rough and rocky journey. The bill had made it all the way to the floor of the Senate last year when it died there without a vote as the clock struck midnight on the last day of the session.
This year, after undergoing some targeted tweaks, it finally made it across the finish line and was signed into law Tuesday night by Gov. Spencer Cox. HB68 will go into effect May 5.
HB68 was designed to help renters who often find themselves ambushed by hidden fees that weren’t disclosed at the time they signed a lease. This fine-print sleight of hand can put a lot of lower income Utahns in a difficult spot when they’ve already paid application fees before finding out their rent would cost them more — sometimes a lot more — than they had anticipated.
Now under the new law landlords will have to disclose up front to renters the amount of each “fixed” non-rent expense that is part of the rental agreement. Landlords would also have to disclose up front if they have any restrictions against renting to people with criminal records or poor credit histories before pocketing any application fees.
Bill sponsor Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, had told colleagues the bill was meant to help landlords and renters by clearing up any confusion in the process. While she felt the majority of landlords weren’t trying to deceive renters she hoped the bill would stop those few who were trying to pull a fast one on would-be tenants.
“There are some practices out there where we can do better,” Judkins said.
While the bill adds new safeguards it still will require renters to keep an eye out for hidden fees.
If a renter finds hidden fees in the lease that weren’t disclosed up front, they have to challenge that before they sign on the dotted line. The bill also doesn’t allow renters a “get out of eviction” free card if landlords do hit them with surprise charges.
Renters who spot the hidden fees will still have to demand their application fee back within five business days of being shown the rental agreement to get it refunded.
For Francisca Blanc, the advocacy and outreach coordinator for The Utah Housing Coalition it’s an exciting win for Utah renters but one that will require some education.
“We are very grateful for the passage of the bill and especially that it got a big win in the Senate,” Blanc said. “Our role now is to make sure renters are aware of the provision.”
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