Landlords in Utah can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Utah.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 27, 2021
In this article, we’ll explain Utah’s eviction process. We’ll also discuss what legal protections and rights renters and tenants have during the eviction process. You’ll find this article most useful if you’re facing eviction because of unpaid rent or your lease is about to end.
What Is Eviction?
An eviction is a legal process where a landlord asks the court to remove a renter from a rental property like a home or an apartment. Utah has state laws in place that explain what the landlord must do to evict the tenant and under what conditions an eviction can take place. If the landlord tries to evict a tenant without following these rules, the landlord could get into trouble for an illegal eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in Utah?
Most evictions in Utah take place between a landlord and tenant. A landlord-tenant relationship exists when a landowner and renter enter into a contract that contains the terms and conditions of the tenancy. The central part of this agreement is that the tenant will pay rent in exchange for living on the landowner’s property. This contract is often created when the landowner and renter sign a written lease or rental agreement.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Utah?
The Utah code for eviction sets out the various ways that a tenant can get evicted. The three main reasons evictions take place are because the tenant is:
Behind, short, or late with rent.
In violation of one or more of the lease’s terms (not including the requirement to pay rent).
Still in possession of the rental property despite the lease having expired or been terminated by the landlord.
The process for most evictions is largely the same. The primary differences relate to how much written notice the landlord must give the tenant before initiating an eviction action.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
Like many other states, Utah’s eviction laws don’t provide a grace period. This means a rent payment is late if it’s not paid on its due date. That said, many residential leases do contain a short grace period. This gives the tenant a few extra days to pay their rent before the payment is considered late. If payment is made within the grace period, tenants won’t be subject to a late fee or eviction action.
Lease Expiration or Termination
A landlord can evict a tenant after the lease ends. This will usually occur in two situations. First, there’s the expiration of a lease. This might take place if a landlord refuses to extend or renew the lease. Second, there’s the termination of the lease. This typically comes up when the tenant violates one of the terms of the lease. In either situation, if a tenant remains on the property, they may be evicted even if they’re willing and able to continue paying their rent.
The Utah Eviction Process
The following sections will explain the process for evictions under residential leases in the state of Utah.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
Before a landlord can sue a tenant to evict them, the landlord must first provide notice (often called a Notice to Vacate). The amount of notice depends on the cause of the eviction and the tenant’s lease.
If the eviction is due to the nonpayment of rent, the landlord must give a 3-day notice. The tenant then has three days to pay the rent due or move out. If they don’t do either, the landlord can start the eviction process.
If the eviction is the result of the tenant breaching the lease, the landlord must give the tenant a 3-day notice. This gives the tenants three days to either fix the breach or move out. If the tenant fails to do either, the landlord can bring an eviction lawsuit.
If the tenant refuses to leave the rental unit despite no longer having a lease, then the notice required depends on the type of lease. For leases involving a month-to-month or other type of periodic tenancy (like week-to-week, year-to-year, etc.), the landlord must provide a 15-day notice. For tenancies at will, the landlord must give a 5-day notice. An at-will tenancy is a tenancy where there’s no lease and either the landlord or tenant can end the landlord-tenant relationship at any time.
These eviction notices can be served on (given to) the tenant by anyone, including the landlord. Besides handing the Notice to Vacate to the tenant personally, the landlord may also serve the eviction notice by:
Mailing it to the tenant via certified mail (or an equivalent service).
Mailing it to the tenant and also giving a copy to a person of suitable age and discretion at the rental property.
Posting a copy of the notice in a visible place on the rental property, such as the front door. This is only allowed if neither the tenant nor a person of suitable age and discretion can be found at the rental property.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
The landlord officially begins the eviction process by filing a complaint in district court to begin the eviction lawsuit — called an unlawful detainer action in the state of Utah. The complaint lists the reasons the landlord seeks an eviction and the type of remedies sought, such as monetary damages. The landlord will also file a summons with the court. The summons explains that the tenant has three days to file an answer to the complaint. The tenant may ask for more time to file an answer, but it’s up to the court to decide whether to grant additional time.
The summons and complaint are served on the tenant.
A copy of the summons and complaint must be served on the tenant. The landlord can’t personally serve the tenant with the summons and complaint like they can with the eviction notice. Generally speaking, the tenant can be served with either personal service or service by mail.
With personal service, copies of the summons and complaint are personally given to the tenant by a sheriff’s deputy, deputy U.S. Marshal, constable, or anyone 18 years of age or older (who isn’t part of the eviction lawsuit, convicted of a sex crime, or part of a legal proceeding involving a protective order). If the process server can’t find the tenant for personal service, then the documents can be given to an adult who resides at the tenant’s home.
For service by mail, the complaint and summons can be mailed to the tenant using a method that allows only the tenant to sign for delivery.
If neither of these methods works, then in certain cases, a court may allow the landlord to use alternative service methods instead.
The tenant files an answer.
If the tenant wants to contest the eviction, it’s important they file an answer in response to the landlord’s complaint. The answer sets out any defenses the tenant may have to the eviction, including counterclaims. In addition to raising legal defenses, filing an answer is important for the tenant for two main reasons.
First, if they don’t file an answer, the landlord can get the court to grant a default judgment against the tenant. This means the landlord may not only get a court order evicting the tenant, but also a monetary judgment awarding the landlord monetary damages.
Second, if the tenant doesn’t file an answer, there’s no eviction hearing. The court will only schedule an eviction hearing if the tenant files an answer. In most cases, this hearing is called an occupancy hearing, and it’s held within 10 days after the tenant files their answer. an occupancy hearing. If the eviction is due to criminal activity, this will be called an evidentiary hearing.
The court holds a hearing.
At the occupancy hearing, the court reviews the initial disclosures (these are exchanged between the landlord and tenant at least two days before the occupancy hearing) and looks to see if it can decide the eviction case. If more information is needed, the court will schedule a trial within 60 days from the date the complaint was served on the tenant.
At the trial, each side presents its case. If the tenant doesn’t appear for the trial, the court may issue a default judgment against the tenant. After each side has presented its arguments and defenses, the court makes a decision. If there are legal issues remaining after the trial, the court may allow the tenant to continue living at the rental property until the remaining legal issues get resolved. But if the tenant chooses to do this, they must post a counter bond.
In rare cases, the landlord may file a possession bond.
Although rare, sometimes landlords will file a possession bond with the court. They can file this at any time after filing the eviction complaint. A possession bond is money the landlord deposits with the court. This money ensures the landlord can pay any potential monetary damages the court may award to the tenant.
A landlord will often file a possession bond to try and remove the tenant from the property before an eviction hearing can take place. If a tenant receives a possession bond, they can do one of the following four things:
File a counter bond with the court. A counter bond is a monetary deposit that the tenant makes to the court confirming the tenant’s ability to pay a future monetary judgment for the landlord.
Ask the court to schedule an occupancy hearing (which must be held within three days).
Pay off any unpaid rent amounts, in addition to any late fees or other litigation reimbursements. This option only applies if the eviction is due to unpaid rent or other money the tenant owes the landlord.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
If you have any defenses to the eviction, you first identify them in your answer. Then at the occupancy or eviction hearing (and trial, if applicable), you get your chance to present these defenses to the court and provide evidence to support them. Most of your defenses to an eviction will be either an affirmative defense or a counterclaim.
An affirmative defense is a type of legal defense that relates directly to the eviction claim made against you. So if the court accepts your affirmative defense, the landlord can’t evict you or can only evict you if they start the eviction process all over again. Additionally, you must raise the defense affirmatively, which means on your own. If you don’t set out the defense, the court won’t do it for you. An example of an affirmative defense might be that your landlord didn’t give you proper notice before evicting you.
A counterclaim is a legal claim that’s separate from the eviction. But in many eviction proceedings, a tenant’s counterclaim will relate to the eviction. For instance, if you refused to pay rent because you didn’t have access to the apartment’s pool and gym as promised in your lease, you might still get evicted for not paying your rent. But you could potentially recover monetary damages from the landlord for not providing you the benefits you paid for under the rental agreement. Counterclaims also come up when the landlord engages in illegal self-help eviction activities, like locking out a tenant.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
If the landlord wins, they get a court order called an Order of Restitution. This authorizes the landlord to have you removed from the property. If the landlord wins the eviction case against you, the court may immediately grant the Order of Restitution. A sheriff’s deputy, constable, or private investigator may serve you with the Order of Restitution in the same way the landlord served you with a notice to vacate.
After you’re served with the Order of Restitution, you must move out by the deadline stated in the order. Often, this will be three days, but it could be shorter. Along with the Order of Restitution, you’ll also get a copy of the Request for Hearing Regarding Enforcement of an Order of Restitution form. This lets you ask for a hearing if you feel like your rights have been violated. But this isn’t an appeal and getting this hearing won’t stop the eviction.
In addition to getting you evicted from the property, the landlord could also recovery monetary damages from you that can include:
Three times the daily rental rate for each day you live at the rental property after the notice to vacate expired.
Three times the monetary cost to repair any damages to the rental property.
Attorney’s fees and court costs.
If you disagree with the court’s decision to grant the eviction, you have three options to challenge it:
File a Motion to Set Aside Judgment. This asks the court to take back its decision to evict you.
File a Motion to Delay Enforcement of Judgment. You’ll file this if you want the court to delay when you have to move out. In addition to having a valid legal argument, you’ll also need to deposit enough money with the court to cover any monetary damages you might owe the landlord.
File an appeal. You have to file your appeal within 10 days after the court enters judgment unless the eviction is due to illegal activity. In that case, you only get three days to appeal.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Utah
If you plan to contest the landlord’s eviction, you’ll need evidence to support your arguments. The best way to do this is by gathering all potential evidence as soon as you find out you’re facing eviction. Depending on the reasons for your eviction, you’ll want to get any relevant documents, photographs, social media screenshots, or videos that can serve as evidence in court. If one of your defenses relates to the condition of the property, consider having a municipal building inspector visit the property to prepare a report about the property’s conditions.
Don’t miss your court dates or deadline to file an answer. If you need more time for either, you can ask the court. There’s no guarantee the court will give you an extension or reschedule the hearing, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Another advantage to asking is that even if the court denies your request, the court is on notice that you asked for additional time to file an answer or get a new court date. This makes it less likely the court will enter a default judgment against you.
If you can catch up on unpaid rent or cure your breach of the lease, pay close attention to the conditions. Make note of any deadlines and details, such as who you might make an additional rent payment to and the process of doing that. Also, make sure you get proof, such as a receipt when paying back rent.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your landlord to discuss the eviction. Even though your landlord wants you out, there’s still a chance you and the landlord can reach an agreement. This could include getting more time to fix a breach of the lease, become current with unpaid rent, or find another place to live. Even if moving out is inevitable, the landlord might agree to drop the eviction lawsuit against you if you promise to leave by a certain date. Avoiding an eviction in your rental history can make finding a new place to live easier.
Keep in mind that whatever agreement you reach with the landlord, get it in writing. You should also sign it and have the landlord or the landlord’s representative (like a property manager) sign it, too.
Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Evictions are among the most common types of legal challenges people face. So there are many nonprofit legal help organizations and tenant’s rights lawyers that are willing to work with tenants like you. These attorneys and organizations can give you legal advice and guidance on how to take advantage of tenant resources, like rental assistance.