ST. GEORGE — As part of the state’s shift to the yellow alert level for the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state will not be extending its moratorium on evictions. In response, various Utah nonprofits are working together to provide needed relief to renters who have been impacted by the pandemic.
In a press release from the Utah State Bar, retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham, who chairs the bar’s Access to Justice Commission, said there is “an unprecedented need to provide assistance to renters who are unable to come up with the funds to pay their rent.”
“Many of these renters have lost their jobs, lost their incomes, and used available savings,” Durham said. “They simply don’t have many options left.”
However, the mediator for Utah Community Action, Heather Lester, said that help is available.
“We want to encourage renters to reach out for advice and help as soon as they know they might have an issue making their rent payment,” Lester said. “Most landlords are willing to discuss options and we are here to help mediate or provide advice. Waiting until an eviction notice has been served is bad all around. Please call for help as soon as possible”.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services announced Monday that an additional $4 million in rental assistance will be available for those who apply. Renters may call 2-1-1 for help applying or for receiving referrals for other needed services like food, utility assistance, et cetera.
Jeff Daybell, staff attorney for the state bar’s Access to Justice Office, said in the press release that multiple Utah attorneys who regularly represent landlords have also agreed to play a part.
“We have been in communication with many of Utah’s top evictions attorneys and they have assured us that they are trying to work with tenants and don’t anticipate a significant uptick in eviction filings.” Daybell said.
“Obviously, those lawyers serve at the pleasure of their clients and are obligated to do what their clients that own apartment complexes request. However, we’re grateful to know that they aren’t anticipating a significant rise in evictions at the end of the moratorium.”
A recent study by the Utah Bar Foundation found that around 95% of all landlords have attorneys representing them in court, whereas less than 5% of tenants have an attorney to help.
Programs like the 3rd District Court’s Pro Se Evictions Calendar provide some tenants with free same-day representation. However, if a tenant fails to appear at court, they won’t be able to get that help.
“We’re doing everything we can to reach out to tenants proactively and let them know we’re there to help,” Daybell said. “However, so many people are still falling through the cracks. Our hope is that anyone reading this will know they can call us and either get free representation, or else be pointed to another resource that may help them.”
Durham said the state hasn’t seen anything like the current situation “in a lifetime.”
“It’s encouraging to see legal service providers, social services providers, and state agencies all working together,” she said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’ll continue working until renters – and the state as a whole – can get back on their feet.”
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