There are instances when you’re justified in breaking a rental lease. For example, you and your partner may be expecting a new baby, so you need extra room. Or you may be a serviceman and have been deployed to a new location.
Whatever the reason, bear in mind that Utah has different statutes that govern the landlord-tenant relationship. As a Utah property management company, we are familiar with Idaho’s rental laws. Here’s what you need to know about breaking a lease in Utah.
Rights & Responsibilities of Tenants When Signing a Lease Agreement in Utah
A lease is a legally binding contract between you and your landlord. Under a typical lease, a landlord can’t force you to move out of your rental apartment, unless you repeatedly violate any of the lease terms. For example, you might fail to pay rent or become a nuisance to your neighbors by doing things like throwing large and noisy parties.
In Utah, it’s illegal for the landlord to alter the terms of the lease agreement before the end of the existing lease term unless it’s explicitly permitted in the lease.
The landlord must take specific procedures to bring to an end the tenancy. For example, Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-802 outlines the procedures landlords must take to file an eviction lawsuit against a tenant who fails to pay rent.
Should a tenant cause substantial damage to the property, landlords may give them an unconditional quit notice. The procedures landlords must follow are outlined under Utah Code Ann. §78B-6-802.
When a tenant breaks a lease, the law obligates them to continue paying the rent for the full lease term, regardless of whether they continue to live in the rental unit.
When Breaking a Lease in Utah Doesn’t Have Any Financial or Legal Repercussions in Utah
In some cases, you are no longer obligated to pay rent, even if the lease term hasn’t expired yet. For example:
1. The Rental Unit is Unfit
If your landlord fails to adhere to the requirements of the local and state housing codes, it’s considered a violation of your rights under the Utah landlord-tenant laws. In court, a judge may rule in your favor by declaring that you have been “constructively evicted” from the property.
Common obligations of landlords under Utah landlord-tenant law include:
- Performing timely repairs
- Making sure the property has running water at all times
- Keeping the common area in good condition
- Providing proper trash receptacles
2. Military Deployment
You also have the right to break a signed lease if you enter active military service afterward. However, the law (War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. § § 501 and following) requires that you belong to a certain group known as “uniformed services.”
Tenants covered under this law must belong to the:
- The activated National Guard
- Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Armed Forces
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
You need to notify your landlord of your intent to break the lease by providing proof of your military deployment. The lease will then expire 30 days after the landlord receives the notice.
3. Your Landlord Violates Your Privacy Rights or Harasses You
Under Utah law, illegal landlord entry is a valid reason for a tenant to break their lease. In most states, including Utah, the landlord must give prior notice of at least 24 hours before entering the rental unit.
If the landlord harasses you, attempts to enter the rental unit, or makes attempts to access the rental unit for reasons which aren’t legal, you can break the lease.
Before you do so, get a restraining order against the landlord first. Should the landlord continue with their attempts to access your rental unit even after that, you’re free to provide a notice to break the lease.
4. The Apartment is Illegal
If you find out that the apartment you’re renting is, in fact, illegal, you won’t face any penalty for breaking your lease agreement. You may be entitled to a portion of the total rent you’ve paid during the course of your tenancy. The landlord may also be compelled to help you get a new rental property.
5. You are a Victim of Domestic Violence
Under state law (Utah Code Ann. § 57-22-5.1), tenants who’ve been victims of domestic violence have the right to end their tenancy without facing any financial or legal repercussions. Specific conditions must be met, however, such as:
- proof of the act of domestic violence;
- police report; or
- copy of an order of protection.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in Utah
If you’re leaving the unit for any reason, your landlord is required to find a replacement tenant as soon as possible. This means that you may end up paying only a portion of the rent due for the remaining lease term.
In re-renting the unit, the landlord cannot relax standards for accepting tenants. However, the landlord can add legitimate expenses to your bills, such as the costs of screening a new tenant, advertising the property, and the like.
If the landlord is unable to re-rent the unit quickly, you will be liable to pay the due rent for the remainder of the lease term. That’s why it’s important that you also help your landlord find a new tenant.
How to Minimize Your Financial Liability
Assuming you don’t have any legal justification to break the lease but you still want to, it’s important to consider your options carefully, as follows.
- Check if your landlord or property management company has another property available in the area where you can move.
- Check if it’s possible to move into another property within the same building. This can be an easy and attractive option if your reason for moving is the need to get more room, or (conversely) you need to downsize.
- Talk to the landlord about your situation. Be concise and clear about your circumstances. Sometimes the reason for leaving could be an issue with your neighbor.
- Offer the landlord a qualified replacement tenant.
If not done correctly, breaking a lease can damage your personal credit and ability to rent in the future. When you have to break a lease and aren’t sure about your options, seek legal assistance.