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What Utah renters need to know to protect themselves from flooding

Sandbags divert the overflowing Emigration Creek away from homes near 1700 S in Salt Lake City on April 13, 2023.
Saige Miller
Sandbags divert the overflowing Emigration Creek away from homes near 1700 S in Salt Lake City on April 13, 2023.

With a record-breaking snowpack beginning to melt, communities around Utah are already beginning to flood. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox noted he’s certain flood conditions will continue for at least the next two months.

Renters made up 30% of Utah households as of 2021. That means a good chunk of Utahns could experience flooding in a home they don’t own.

Jacob Kent, a staff attorney and housing task force chair with Utah Legal Services, said there isn’t a law on the books that requires landlords to prepare for natural disasters. And if flooding does occur while someone is living on the property, there isn’t much landlords are on the hook for.

He hopes landlords would take it upon “themselves to say, ‘I want to protect my investment’ and try to protect it,” by getting ahead of the situation or dealing with a flood situation quickly. But that isn’t always the case.

Here’s what Utah renters can do to prepare and protect themselves from potential flooding:

Get renters insurance

Kent said having renters insurance is the best thing a renter can do to safeguard themselves against destruction from flooding or any other unfortunate event.

“That's going to provide the most protection to them, especially if their personal property gets damaged,” Kent said.

In the event that flooding does occur, Kent said the renter should protect their own property first and try and move the belongings out of the waterlogged area as much as possible. Kent also advises renters to document impacted areas of the rental property, including personal damages, by taking photos and keeping a record of communication with the landlord or property manager.

Consider a game plan with your landlord

If you know you’re in a potential flood zone, and especially if you live in a basement apartment, Kent recommended reaching out to the landlord before conditions get rough to figure out how to best mitigate potential impacts.

This is a good opportunity to clarify who will sandbag the property if needed.

“It's the landlord's asset and it's worth having a conversation because they don't want anything to happen to their asset,” Kent said. “And the more cooperation between the landlord and tenant, the better.”

If the tenant is a person with disabilities, they can request a “reasonable accommodation,” according to Nate Crippes, a supervising attorney with the Disability Law Center.

“I think it's certainly something that is within your right to do,” he said. “And I would venture to guess, in some circumstances, it's going to be appropriate for them to assist you with that.”

Crippes said it’ll be up to the “individual circumstance” if the landlord is required to take that precaution.

If the request is denied, Crippes added the person could seek legal counsel.

Flood-proof the unit

A landlord isn’t required to sandbag or take other necessary measures to protect the property unless it’s specified in the lease, according to Kent. If you feel it’s needed to flood-proof the unit, there’s no law stating you can’t.

However, if you do decide to take measures into your own hands and sandbag the property, Kent said to be careful.

“If they [the tenant] were to, for example, put in sandbags that routed water into the downstairs entrance, the landlord could come after him for that because they did something that messed it up,” he said.

Kent also emphasized the importance of looking over your lease to understand what is your responsibility and what is the responsibility of your landlord.

If it floods, call the landlord right away

It might seem obvious, but Kent said this is the first step a person should take if water starts to enter the apartment.

Under Utah statute, Kent said with displaced water, like a flood or a leaky pipe, the landlord has three days to start fixing the problem. If they don’t fix it, or the conditions become unlivable, the tenant has a right to vacate the property in 10 days.

“The law does give the tenant the right to terminate the lease if the conditions are bad enough [or] the landlord can't take substantial steps to fix the problem,” he said.

If that happens, the tenant is entitled to their full security deposit and the prorated rent they paid for the month.

In the case that personal property is damaged and a tenant decides to sue, they could receive money ”if the court finds the landlord unjustifiably refused to correct the problem,” Kent said.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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