Breaking a Lease in Utah

Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Utah, when they can’t, what options they have if they don’t have a proper cause, and what the consequences are of walking out on a lease agreement. Learn how landlords can break a lease, when they can break one without cause, and how much notice they have to give.

Importance of Fixed Periods in Lease Agreements

Without a fixed period, a landlord generally has the same rights as the tenant to terminate tenancy (with proper notice). In the same way that a landlord lacks long-term security on a month-to-month (or shorter period) lease if a tenant decides to leave, tenants lack the same security if the landlord decides to change the terms (i.e. raise the rent) or end the lease altogether. 

That’s why fixed periods are an important protection for both parties. They’re not just there to act as a restriction to tenants. 

As a result, there are real legal consequences for violating the agreement without proper cause on either side. It’s important to understand when a tenant can get out a lease with a fixed period that hasn’t ended, and when a tenant can’t.

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Utah

In Utah, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Utah tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:

  • Notice to terminate a lease with no end date. 15 days (UCA §§ 78B-6-802)
  • Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 15 days (UCA §§ 78B-6-802) 

Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Utah

There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Utah without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.

1. Early Termination Clause

Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).

If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.

2. Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.

To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:

  • Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty 
  • Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days
  • Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / PCS or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.

With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So for example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).

NOTE

In Utah, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.

3. Unit is Uninhabitable

Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Utah is no different. 

If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs/fixes are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under the Utah landlord-tenant law. According to Utah state law (UCA §§ 57-22-4), landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:

  • Compliance. The landlord may not rent the premises unless they are safe, sanitary, and fit for human occupancy.
  • Common Areas. Maintain common areas of the residential rental unit in a sanitary and safe condition.
  • Maintain. Electrical systems, plumbing, heating, and hot and cold water, any air conditioning system in an operable condition, and other appliances and facilities as specifically contracted in the rental agreement.
  • Trash. Buildings containing more than two residential rental units, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles for garbage and other waste and arrange for its removal, except to the extent that the renter and owner otherwise agree.

4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation

If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.

  • Landlord entry.Utah state law states that the landlord must give 24 hours notice to enter the rental property unless specified differently in the lease. (UCA §§ 57-22-4(2)). If your landlord repeatedly violates your rights to privacy or does removes windows or doors, turns off your utilities, or changes the locks, you would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above.
  • Changing the locks. In some states, if the locks are changed by a landlord without the tenant’s permission or without the protection of specific language in the lease agreement, this can qualify as being “constructively evicted”, and could relieve the tenant of their duties of the lease. In Utah, lockouts are not permitted. (UCA §§ 78B-6-814)

5. Violation of Lease Agreement

If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period). Because each lease agreement is different, carefully read over the duties and requirements for both parties to understand if a violation has been made, and whether or not there is language describing how certain violations are to be handled. 

6. Illegal Contract

In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal in the state of Utah, and as a result, are generally not enforceable. 

  • Over 1-year lease without a description of the property. For a written lease agreement with a fixed period of greater than 1 year to be valid in Utah, it needs to have a clear description of the leased property.
  • Illegal units. The definition of what constitutes an illegal rental unit can vary by location and isn’t always entirely clear. On the state level, Utah does not appear to have clear information on what defines a legal rental unit. 

7. Domestic Violence

Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. If you are confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also be stalking), and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations. Some statutes the state of Utah provides for victims of domestic violence include:

  • Proof of Status. The landlord is entitled to verify the claim of Domestic Violence status. (UCA §§ 57-22-5.1)
  • Termination of Lease. A tenant is allowed to terminate a lease if (UCA §§ 57-22-5.1): 
    • The tenant is in compliance with all provisions of Section 57-22-5 and all obligations under the rental agreement
    • The tenant provides the owner a written notice of termination, and a protective order protecting the renter from a domestic violence perpetrator or a copy of a police report documenting that the renter is a victim of domestic violence and did not participate in the violence
    • The tenant provides notice of termination under Subsection (4)(b)(i), pays the owner the equivalent of 45 days’ rent for the period beginning on the date that the renter provides the notice of termination.
  • Locks. Upon request, the landlord must change or re-key the locks at the tenant’s expense. (UCA §§ 57-22-5.1)

8. Mandatory Disclosures in Utah

Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Since these laws vary from state to state (and sometimes by city or county) it is important to have your agreement looked over by a landlord-tenant attorney in your state to guarantee the correct disclosures are included in your lease. 

Some disclosure laws impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. Others contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease. If your landlord fails to provide you with a mandatory state or local disclosure speak with a Utah landlord-tenant attorney to determine what can be done.

Utah requires that landlords provide the following disclosure to tenants, normally in writing and at the start of the lease:

  • Name and Addresses.The landlord must disclose the name and address of the property owner as well as that of anyone authorized to manage the property or allowed to receive notice on the owner’s behalf. (UCA §§ 57-22-4(4))
  • Copy of Lease and Rules. The landlord must deliver an executed copy of the rental agreement if the rental agreement is a written agreement, and a copy of any rules and regulations applicable to the residential rental unit. (UCA §§ 57-22-4(4))
    • Itemized List of Prior Damages. The landlord must provide the prospective renter a written inventory of the condition of the residential rental unit, excluding ordinary wear and tear. (UCA §§ 57-22-4(3))
NOTE

The only federally required landlord disclosure pertains to lead-based. Known as Title X, this disclosure is designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil. Section 1018 of this law requires the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of housing built before 1978.

9. You or a Co-Tenant Face a Health Crisis

If you, a dependent living with you, or your co-tenant, face a serious physical or mental health issue you may qualify for early lease termination without obligation to pay the entire balance of rent due. Some states offer permitted, health-related lease-breaking arrangements that are age-restricted. Most states require a note from a locally licensed physician and at least 30 days’ notice. Since not all states allow this statute, be sure to check the Utah Landlord and Tenant Handbook for further information. 

Note About Illegal Retaliation in Utah

In July of 2019, House Bill 346 (which became § 44-7-24) went into effect providing tenants with protection against landlords that retaliate to actions such as giving the notice to make repairs or reporting to governmental entities about violations in building or housing codes. The bill does not state that these types of illegal retaliation are enough justification for lease termination, but the bill does allow for a sizable penalty against the landlord if they’re found in violation (1 month’s rent + legal fees + $500), which could help offset the costs of penalty fees associated with early termination. 

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking

The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

  • They bought a house
  • They are relocating for a new job or school
  • They are upgrading or downgrading
  • They are moving in with a partner
  • They are moving to be closer to family

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.

Tenant’s Options if Legal Justification is Not Met

If the previously stated legal conditions are not met, there are still a few options that a tenant has that could allow for them to not be obligated to pay rent until the end of the fixed period.

Talk with the landlord

Some landlords may be understanding and willing to negotiate with a tenant. Every situation is different, and every landlord is different. A tenant’s best chance at getting a landlord to work with them is, to be honest about the reasons for leaving, to provide as much notice as possible, and to propose possible resolutions that could be mutually beneficial (i.e. by paying 2 month’s rent). 

Aid in finding a new tenant

If the tenant moves out before the end of the fixed period, they are still required to pay rent until the end of the period until a new tenant is found. During that remainder period, the landlord is not required to make reasonable effort to find a new tenant (if they don’t, the previous tenant is not responsible for future rent). 

Therefore, the previous tenant may choose to be proactive and help to find a new tenant on their own, instead of waiting for the landlord to find one. The landlord does not have to accept the newly found tenant if they have reasonable justification (i.e. they have bad credit or rental history), but helping to find a new tenant can only help increase a tenant’s chances of being relieved of future rent.

NOTE

In Utah, landlords do not have to try to rent their property quickly to keep their losses to a minimum if you move before a lease ends.

Sublet

If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you are in the clear to do so. However, your lease might contain a clause requiring you to obtain your landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get landlord approval you will want to send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept in case you need to prove that you notified your landlord. 

Consequences of Illegal Lease Breaking

If a tenant breaks a lease without mutual agreement from the landlord or without the proper legal justification and does not pay the rent due for the remainder of the fixed period, the tenant faces the following consequences.

  • Loss of security deposit. Usually, at a minimum, a landlord may choose to withhold the security deposit. 
  • Lawsuit. A landlord may sue the tenant for unpaid rent during the fixed period, which if won, could result in the tenant facing a money judgment. That judgment, if not paid on the spot or if terms are not set for a long-term payment plan, could result in the garnishment of the tenant’s wages or bank account.
  • Impact on credit score. While a money judgment won’t show up on a tenant’s credit report (thanks to the National Consumer Assistance Plan), if the landlord chooses to go an alternative route to collecting on unpaid rent by using a debt collection agency, the tenant’s credit score could be severely impacted.
  • Difficulty in finding future housing. Whether or not a tenant provides the landlord’s name & contact information themselves when looking to buy or rent in the future, a background check will most likely provide the future landlord or mortgage lender with that information. That previous landlord could provide a very negative reference.

Read About Breaking a Lease in Other States

Georgia

California

Ohio

New York

Wyoming

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