HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

Evictions are up across the country but Utah is bucking the trend

Jun 22, 2023, 7:25 AM | Updated: 10:40 am

Rental rates...

A for rent sign is pictured in the Avenues in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 16, 2021. Rental prices in Utah have jumped 36% in the last three years, costing Utahns more than ever. Here's what experts have to say(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As pandemic rent relief funding ends, states nationwide are dealing with spikes in eviction rates. But here in Utah, we’re back to where we were before pandemic funding began.

According to data from the Rental Housing Association of Utah, eviction filings in Utah reached 2,643 in the first four months of this year.

These first-quarter eviction numbers are higher than they have been over the past several years.

However, RHA reports that the end-of-the-year eviction rate will remain low because rental households have increased by 20,000 since 2019.

“We’re post-Covid now, and numbers are exactly where they were pre-Covid, at 2.3% of Utahns being evicted per year,” says Paul Smith, executive director of the RHA.

Pre-pandemic eviction rate

If the current 4-month trend continues, Utah would end up with a little over 8,000 evictions in 2023, creating an end-of-year eviction rate of  2.3%.

This would be the same as 2019 (2.3%) but still lower than 2018 (2.4%) and 2017 (2.5%).

Smith says one reason eviction rates are beginning to rise again is largely due to the end of federal pandemic rental relief funds.

“Utah saw an increase in evictions in 2022 due to a winding down of federal and state rental assistance programs and a lack of affordable housing.”

Increasing evictions nationwide

The $350 million the government gave out to help renters pay rent through the pandemic came to a halt in February. Dependency on these funds is causing difficulty for renters across the nation to keep their homes.

According to the Eviction Lab, some cities have current eviction filings that are 50% higher than their pre-pandemic average.

The RHA says a slight eviction spike happened this year because of increased reliance on federal assistance and a lack of preparation for when the program ended.

Here in Utah, the 2023 eviction rate is on track to be the same or lower than the three years leading up to the pandemic.

Why Utah’s eviction rate is different

Eviction laws in Utah are considered to be firmer than in other states.

“We have fair but firm laws, and renters know there are consequences of not resolving issues. That’s a reason why evictions have fallen so much,” explains Smith.

State laws hold renters accountable for failing to comply with rental agreements, and consequences are given after a renter refuses to work with or comply to the landlord’s requests.

15 years ago Utah tweaked its eviction laws.

Since then the eviction rate per capita has fallen 50% according to the RHA, which claims the decline is because our “firm but fair” laws work to avoid and prevent evictions.

“We are doing a phenomenal job of resolving issues without going to evictions,” Smith says.

Additionally, over the past several years the rental housing industry has worked with renter advocates and the Utah legislature to make eviction laws more tenant-friendly.

This includes changing the vacate notice process from calendar days to court days, expanding Utah’s Community Action’s eviction prevention specialist program from one person to four, and giving evicted renters a way to have their eviction expunged from their records.

Smith says this change allows evicted renters to get into better housing in the future, and repays the landlord for the money they lost.

“We’re a second chance society, we want to give second chances to people”

What to do if you receive an eviction notice

The RHA provides several suggestions on what to do if you receive an eviction notice.

  1. Call 211. Social services will further connect you with a housing counselor who can help you solve issues.
  2. Connect with the Utah Community Action. Their program includes deposit and emergency rental assistance, landlord-tenant mediation, and homeless services to help renters prevent and solve evictions.
  3. Reach out to your churches and community organizations. They often have funds to help renters get back on their feet and avoid evictions.

Smith says the number one thing to do is not freeze.

“If you’re being evicted, don’t freeze. Communicate. Reach out. try to resolve this. Because evictions can be very harsh and nobody likes evictions, not the landlords and not the tenants. You can avoid them if you just resolve it and communicate.”

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Evictions are up across the country but Utah is bucking the trend