Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Landlord Tenant Bill HB 0376

I just wanted to weigh in on HB 0376.

I think this bill is bad for Utah.

The bill would make it difficult for tenants to defend themselves in complex eviction cases involving allegations of "nuisance" or "breach of contract." These are not straight-forward non-payment of rent cases. The bills changes the law so that tenants will only have ten days to prepare for an eviction hearing. Ten days might be enough time in a more straight-forward non-payment of rent case (which generally is just a question of accounting), but cases involving allegations of "nuisance" or "breach of contract" are often factually complex and require time for investigation before a hearing is held on the merits. Ten days is not enough time to prepare a defense for these type of cases. I think the change proposed by this bill is a bad idea.

The bill would also subject commercial tenants to expedited process. This is bad for business. I have seen fledgling businesses ruined because a landlord wrongfully evicted them. Again, there should not be an eviction hearing within ten days when the case involves complex contractual relations between a landlord and a commercial tenant. Having a hearing on occupancy within ten days is a huge disruption to businesses. Because it is anti-business, I recommend rejecting the bill. Commercial tenants should have the same procedural rights as parties in other contractual disputes (21 days to respond, trial after 120 days, etc.) The business community should reject this change. It has potentially large ramifications on Utah businesses, many of which are tenants.

Finally, a seemingly minor change in the law changes the word "answer" to "answer or response." This change seems minor, but it has far-reaching implications. The change would mandate an eviction hearing after a tenant files a "response" in the form of a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction. This change in language would create a situation where the Court would be required to have an eviction hearing before the court has even determined whether it has jurisdiction over the case. This is likely unconstitutional. The Court cannot evict someone without first determining whether it has jurisdiction over the case. Therefore, this seemingly minor change has huge legal and constitutional implications and will create problems for the Court's trying to implement the change.

I think HB 0376 is an unnecessary and problematic change to a system that is already extremely expedited compared to most civil litigation.

Please call your state Senator and Representative and tell them that you oppose House Bill 0376. If you can, please pass this message along. Thank you!