CEDAR CITY, Utah (ABC4) – There is a multitude of factors and situations that can make it hard for a person to find housing.
Oftentimes, a scathing relationship may ensue between a tenant and their landlord — which in a worst-case scenario, results in eviction. But before things get to that point, there are steps both parties can take that can place them both in a win-win situation.
The Utah Bar Foundation released a report in April showcasing how debt collection in Utah is at an all-time high. When it comes to eviction judgments, only 20% of them are actually collected in Utah. This means 80% of eviction judgments have not been paid in full yet. According to Derek Morton, owner of Netgain Property Management in Cedar City, neither the tenant nor landlord benefit from this situation.
“Having that other voice to explain to a tenant how their decision will impact them can save them from an eviction, which hinders the re-entry into housing for those tenants,” said Morton.
That “other voice” that Morton is referring to is a housing advocate.
“If a tenant reaches out and says they’re struggling, just lost their job and don’t know what to do, the housing advocate would connect them to Utah rent relief or other resources that are out there,” said Morton.
It’s been six years since Morton launched Netgain Property Management and many of his tenants are victims of domestic violence and people transitioning out of homelessness.
Morton set out to figure out how he can protect his owners and be able to minimize those (the tenants) from falling into eviction situations.
“We all have different opinions and biases as to why someone is in homelessness. Some of them are true and all my worst fears when we started the transitional housing — none of them have come true,” Morton said.
Over the years, Morton realized how important it is to connect tenants to resources at the moment they need them. A housing advocate is a person to bridge that gap and step in to help allow someone to continue to stay in their housing.
When it comes to a person who is looking for a place to live and is receiving rental assistance, some landlords may even raise the deposit — further hindering the stability of those looking for housing.
“I think landlords miss the mark, by having one set of rules and expectations,” said Peggy Green, Executive Director of Iron County Care and Share (ICCS).
ICCS is a non-profit that provides assistance and resources to individuals and families in need, offering them opportunities to increase their stability and self-sufficiency.
Green, who has been with ICCS for the past six years, says advocates are not expecting landlords to be case managers. She says if landlords are at least in tune with what’s available in the community and the collaborative partners they can lean on, the experts can then utilize the funds available for people in these situations.
She says people need time to breathe when they move into housing, so they can then approach all the other roadblocks they may be facing.
“When you’re talking about folks that are moving out of homelessness, it takes time to adjust and you need to give people that grace in changing their circle of friends, changing interaction with their family, any of those negative influences,” said Green.
Green says although homelessness programs have been spearheaded by the state, the legislature may not have a complete understanding of how this happens in real life.
The solution? All hands on deck.
“We all have to come at housing and homelessness and mental health and domestic violence together, said Green. “We have to have a conversation so everybody understands the real issues.”
Morton points to circumstances where a tenant just having legal aid can completely shift the situation from a possible eviction to a settlement in court. One of the biggest hurdles for tenants is being able to access legal representation.
The Utah Bar Foundation report also points to a three-day notice period where a landlord can collect “treble damages.” Utah is the only state where those damages are deemed mandatory by the court.
The combination of these eviction policies can leave Utah renters scrambling for new housing while burdened with crushing housing-related debt judgments and garnishments, which can hinder efforts to secure a new place to live.
The foundation believes that policy changes around some of these statutes could continue to achieve the landlord’s goal of removing a renter who is not paying rent but could also be improved so that the renter is not left with crushing debt and the inability to find new housing due to their eviction.