Salt Lake City, Utah (September 2, 2015): A new lecture series is beginning in September at the Downtown Salt Lake City Public Library to arm tenants with the knowledge and skills to defend themselves against their landlords.
This new lecture series, organized by “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” partner agency Utah Legal Services (ULS), will aim to provide tenants with the knowledge to avoid eviction and its high associated costs, how to improve the quality of your rental, how to improve your rental living conditions, and how to ensure that your landlord makes repairs, among other topics.
Controversial landlord practices can range from improper water shutoffs, delayed rental improvements, and the refusal to meet disability needs, among others. Take, for instance, the case of Mary, 38, a single mother diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and her 8-year old daughter diagnosed with neurofibromatosis faced with the looming threat of homelessness when the Housing Authority took away the families Section Eight Housing funding. Mary was forced to give nearly all of her possessions and asked her 16-year old son to live with his father to save him from the impending shame of homelessness.
Utah Legal Services was notified of the case when Mary and her daughter were “literally a week away from going into a shelter.” Mary’s Section Eight Housing funding was taken away after she moved to a handicap accessible apartment with her landlord’s approval. The Housing Authority did not authorize the move and terminated her housing funds. ULS filed a third-party lawsuit against the Housing Authority, as well as a counter-suit against the landlord to ensure that Mary was not forced to pay the $10,000 in past due rent. (The full story was covered by the Standard-Examiner here.)
In Utah, treble damages — a statute that permits a court to triple the amount of compensation — on a $1,000 dispute plus attorney fees can result in the tenant owing upwards of $5,000. This debt is garnishable, which means debt collectors could take payments directly from the tenant’s wages before the tenant receives them. The combination of treble damages, attorney fees, and wage garnishing often results in the tenant’s eviction, which can lead to irreparable social, mental, and physical damage to the tenant and his or her family. ULS reported that in 2014 they assisted over 3,200 cases regarding housing, heat, and utilities.
Supporting the idea that Utah tenants need help in defending themselves against shady landlord practices is a new and state-wide study aptly titled the “Fair Housing Snap Shot Research Project,” conducted by David Parker, fair housing specialist in the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division. This study reports that not only are Utahns suffering from unfair housing practices but also they are largely unaware about the rights and opportunities granted to them from the Fair Housing Act. Student researchers surveyed 1,081 residents in 22 counties and found that only 18% of Utahns know who to call or where to seek help when facing housing discrimination, 33% falsely believe that tenant applicants with children can be charged a higher rental deposit than those without, and 76% falsely believe that a single parent with children can be restricted from renting in an adults-only building.
Martin Blaustein, the ULS Managing Attorney and leader of the new lecture series, comments, “Utah is a business-friendly state. Utah law, as it relates to the protection of tenant families, does not exist. Tenants who demand habitable premises from their landlords are often threatened by the landlord, who uses eviction threats or a bad reference threat to get the tenant to keep quiet. Landlords enjoy the benefits of owning properties in a [business] friendly state, a state that provides unfair privilege to landlords at the expense of underrepresented and uninformed tenants.”
The lecture series kicks off Thursday September 10th from 6:00-7:30pm, and will take place every other Thursday until the end of the year. The lectures will be held at the Downtown Salt Lake City Public Library, Conference Room E. The library is located at 210 East 400 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. Each lecture has room for 25 people and is open to the public, but is for tenants only.
“Whatever Marty did, it worked, ‘cause we’d be sitting in the snow right now,” said Mary.
About “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL”
“AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” (AJFA) is the resource-sharing umbrella organization for Utah’s primary civil legal aid agencies: Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and Utah Legal Services. It is the first project of its kind in the country to co-locate the major civil legal service providers in an effort to simplify access for clients and create efficiencies for service providers. By uniting together, the legal organizations housed within and Justice for all’s Community Legal Center save over half a million dollars annually.
Over the last 16 years, AJFA has helped almost half a million people regain stability in domestic issues, obtain protective orders in cases of domestic violence, access disability income and health care and satisfy their most basic needs through legal representation, advice and referrals. and Justice for all received a four star rating by Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management and transparency, which only one-fourth of US charities received. Furthermore, a recently commissioned social return on investment study demonstrated that for every dollar invested in the three founding agencies of and Justice for all, there is a social return of $7.27. Additionally, the work of our three organizations saves the courts (and thus saves Utah tax payers) an estimated $1,834,936 every year.
Contact: Marty Blaustein