It won’t come as a big surprise to anyone that there are specific rules to follow when you are involved in an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. But you may be surprised to know that failure to follow a rule as seemingly unimportant as requiring certain information to be handwritten instead of typed can end up making a difference of thousands of dollars.
One Utah landlord learned this the hard way when, after winning her case with the district court, lost a substantial portion of her award on appeal. The landlord originally received an award of more than $63,000, which included triple the amount of rent due (known as “treble damages”) under the unlawful detainer laws. On appeal, the tenant challenged the award of treble damages on a super-technical argument, and won. The tenant argued that the document the landlord had originally sent the tenant to notify the tenant of the lawsuit was invalid. The reason: Although it listed the correct number of days the tenants had to file an answer, the landlord had typed the number rather than writing it by hand as required by law.
The landlord asked the court to overlook the technical error. After all, the number had been correct. But the court refused, calling the mistake “fatal” to the landlord’s unlawful detainer claim.
The court ultimately upheld the remainder of the landlord’s judgment against the tenant, but by refusing to award treble damages, the court gutted one of the landlord’s best remedies against her contract-breaching tenant.
Whether you are a landlord seeking to evict a deadbeat tenant, or a tenant seeking to protect your rights from an abusive landlord, make sure you know and follow the rules closely. Most of those rules can be found starting in the Utah Code section 78B-6-801. Additional self-help can be found on the court’s website: https://www.utcourts.gov/howto/landlord/eviction.html.
Because mistakes can be costly, it pays to get the help you need to get it right. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.
 See Koerber v. Mismash, 2015 UT App 237, 359 P.3d 701.
Mark B. Thornton