Evictions are generally very simple matters in Utah. For a nonpayment of rent eviction, the court need only address a few basic questions. First, the plaintiff must establish ownership of the property. Second, the plaintiff must establish that the tenant agreed to pay a certain amount of rent per month. Third, the plaintiff must establish that the proper notices were posted (Notice to Pay or Vacate). Fourth, the plaintiff must state that rent is past due. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove that he or she has in fact paid rent.
In almost every eviction, the first two questions are not disputed. Occasionally, a tenant will try to dispute whether or not a notice was posted. Fortunately for landlords, the Court will almost always give the Landlord the benefit of the doubt provided a copy of the Notice is filed. To prevent this from becoming an issue, I tell all of my clients to take a picture on their phone of the Notice that is posted.
Surprisingly, less than a third of tenants being evicted dispute whether or not rent is current. Most tenants bring up other issues such as disrepair of the residence or a landlord’s refusal to take late payments. In Utah, this is not a defense to an eviction. Nevertheless, if the Tenant can show at court that he or she has the ability to bring the entire arrearage current, the court might refuse to restore possession of the residence to the plaintiff.
For the record, the tenant’s ability to bring the past due rent current should never be an issue because the time to comply with payment of the arrearage has long expired by the time you are in court. This doesn’t always mean the law will be strictly enforced in every instance.
Many judges, for better or for worse, will allow principals of equity to guide their decision making. That means that even though a tenant is unlawful detainer by the time a complaint is filed, if the tenant has the ability to pay at the time of the hearing, the judge will allow the tenant to remain in the property. This can create a problem for many landlords (especially those who rely on timely payments to service a mortgage on the property).
So what happens if the court issues a ruling that is not properly established on principals of the law? In most cases, you can file an appeal. The problem with an appeal in an eviction matter is that it will take anywhere from six months to two years or more to reach a resolution. So, yes, you can appeal an eviction, but frankly it rarely makes sense.
Instead of appealing an eviction, you can file a motion to set aside the court’s ruling (or for new trial if applicable). The problem with these Motions is that you will appear before the same judge who will almost certainly reach the same result.
Lost an eviction hearing? My advice is almost always to just wait for the tenant to default again, and initiate a new eviction proceeding. Pray that lightning doesn’t strike twice.
NOTE: It should be a very rare situation in which an eviction doesn’t go smoothly. If you are having trouble with your current eviction process, give on of our Utah Eviction Attorneys. We can either give you some advice over the phone or handle all of your evictions moving forward.