Renter’s Rights–What I Wish I Would Have Known

I wouldn’t be a true blogger if I didn’t fall off the blogging band wagon at least once, right? Well, this post will explain what happened that lead me to fall off the wagon, but, let’s be honest, I really have no good reason why it took me so long to get back on.

When last I posted we were living in a hotel suite and waiting for our apartment to be restored after a flood. While staying there we heard periodically from the restoration company about the progress of our unit. We had heard most recently that it would take at least two more weeks before our unit would be considered livable again. We also would hear periodically from our renter’s insurance how long our hotel stay had been extended. Well, as of Tuesday, September 8th we only knew that out renter’s insurance was paying for our stay through the 11th. That September 8th evening Brandon called the renter’s insurance to make sure that they were aware that our apartment would not be livable for at least two more weeks. They had not heard and needed to speak directly with the renovation company. Brandon gave them the number of the renovation company and we waited to hear back from them, trusting that we would have a place to live until we could go home.

The entire time we had been displaced I had been trying to do research to figure out our rights in hopes that we could simply be released from our lease, enabling us to move closer to Brandon’s new job. I had attempted to do some public library based reasearch, but with a 11 month old in tow and an inability to check out books from any of the libraries near our hotel (after all, I was not technically a Salt Lake County resident), research was nearly impossible. Web-based research was also difficult because the internet service in our hotel suite was shotty at best. Mostly, I had to go off of word of mouth to know if or how to get out of our lease and gain some much-needed stability for our family.

Long story short we heard back from the renter’s insurance that they would pay for our hotel stay through Monday, September 14th and after that we would have to figure out how to foot the bill. That is when I lost it! I had no way to know for sure if we had legal grounds to get out of our lease or not, but I was going to get us out of the lease! This mamma bear was not going to let her family be homeless!

I called our management company, very briefly explained the situation and told the property manager that “he would be hearing from our lawyer,” even though we hadn’t even shopped for a lawyer, let alone hired one. There was a bit of back and forth with him trying to calm me down. The call dropped a couple of times (no really it did…no one hung up on the other person) and after the second drop he called his lawyer and I called my husband. While bringing my husband up to speed the property manager called me back and left a message. He said that since we “had been so patient” through this whole ordeal they would let us out of our lease. I laughed a little at his wording because I am pretty sure he wasn’t just being a nice guy, but he knew that they would lose in a small claims court.

So here we were on a Wednesday and we needed to move out that coming weekend. Fortunately my husband had already been looking at rentals in the area, so we spent Wednesday looking at the two most viable housing options (there were only two that were available immediately), Thursday we signed the lease, Friday we packed up (with the help of our awesome Springville 3rd Ward friends), and Saturday we loaded up the van and moved (again with the help of friends and family). It was one crazy weekend, but moving that quickly has its upsides. We didn’t have to agonize about where to live, because we simply chose the best of two options, and we didn’t have to worry about accidentally packing something we would need before the move.

Affordable-Housing-Is-a-Right

So, now that it is all in the past (thank goodness) I have been able to do some actual research about renter’s rights, both nationally and within the State of Utah. Here are the rights that I now know I have as a renter that I wish I would have known before the flooding, but hope I never have to assert in the future:

  1. Nationally, “A tenant may move out before a lease is up when a natural disaster, or some other occurrence that the tenant bears no responsibility for, destroys or significantly damages the rental property.” This applies when the unit is rendered uninhabitable.
  2. Per Utah law a habitable unit is defined as having “electrical systems, heating, plumbing, and hot and cold water.” The flood waters from the upstairs unit was streaming through the light sockets, making it unsafe to use the electrical system. The flood damage required a complete restoration of the only bathroom in the unit. On the Friday we were there packing we had to impose on the kindness of neighbors to use their toilets, because ours had been ripped out. Our renter’s insurance defined a habitable unit as having the above utilities as well as a working kitchen and at least one bedroom.
  3. I didn’t need to know this one, because the management company did the right thing here. However, it is good to know that in Utah, “If an apartment complex is uninhabitable due to fire or a natural disaster and the tenants must leave, no more rent is due.”

Of course the Landlord has rights too. Just be aware that, “No Utah law requires a landlord pay motel bills or moving expenses when the rental unit becomes uninhabitable through no fault of the tenant.” So get renter’s insurance!

There was one piece of word-of-mouth legal advice given to me by an acquaintance who used to own a rental unit that gave me courage to threaten legal action to get out of our lease. This well-meaning woman told me that because my husband had recently accepted new employment in a different county we should be able to get out of the lease legally, just based on that. However, it turns out that the advice is completely false:

Many tenants are under the impression that a job offer constitutes a legal reason to break a lease. Except for a very few situations, the laws on leases are simply not that flexible. A few states have statutes allowing tenants to get out of leases if they’re in the military and have received orders posting them more than a certain number of miles away. Under federal law, any service person entering active duty can cancel a lease. And a few states allow elderly tenants to get out of a lease if they’re accepted to an assisted-care facility. But that is it.

I have been a renter for more than a decade now and am really just barely learning my rights. I wish I had done this reasearch much sooner. Had I learned earlier in my renting days how to research and assert my rights I would have saved hundreds of dollars, but that is a story for another post. I hope this post helps other renters know what their rights are in the event of a disaster outside of their control. Happy renting!

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One thought on “Renter’s Rights–What I Wish I Would Have Known

  1. Sigh. Luckily, we haven’t had any disasters in our rentals, but when you live in several different rentals over time, you quickly learn that some places (and some landlords!) are better than others!

    Like

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