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When Can a Landlord Claim Attorney Fees in Utah?

Posted by Jeremy Shorts on December 5, 2009

In a dispute with a tenant (or anyone for that matter), being able to claim attorney fees can provide valuable leverage during negotiations.  However, it is only possible to claim attorney fees in limited situations, and it is important to understand when this is possible.

When Can You Claim Attorney Fees?

The Utah Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that “Generally, attorney fees in Utah are awarded only as a matter of right under a contract or statute.”  Foote v. Clark, 962 P.2d 52, 54 (Utah 1998) (internal citations omitted).  Without a contract or statute allowing attorney fees, neither party can claim them.  Also, where a contract awards attorney fees, they “are allowed only in strict accordance with the terms of the contract.”  Id.  Courts pay close attention to EXACTLY when the contract allows attorney fees.

My FREE Utah Residential Lease Agreement contains a standard attorney fee provision, as does every contract that I draft or modify for a client.

Don’t Rely on Statutes…

The situations where the Utah Code provides a statutory right for attorney fees are few and far between…  Here is an incomplete list showing a few of the common examples:

If the only way for you to make a claim for attorney fees is through contract or statute, don’t rely on a statute!!  Take this into your own hands and make sure your rental agreement contains a provision for attorney fees.

No One-Way Streets…

Attorney fees provisions are often written in a one-sided manner.  For example, they will state that “If tenant breaches this rental agreement the landlord shall be entitled to any attorney fees and/or court costs incurred in relation to tenant’s breach.”  The plain language of that provision does not award the tenant any right to attorney fees.  However, because of the reciprocal right to attorney fees stated in Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-826, the tenant would also be allowed to claim attorney fees if the landlord is in breach of the rental contract.  The opportunity to claim attorney fees in Utah is never a one-way street.


I ALWAYS encourage (beg!) my clients to include an attorney fees provision in any contract I draft or modify.  My own personal opinion is that attorney fees provisions work to keep both sides honest.  If both parties enter into the contract with full intentions of abiding by its provisions, neither side should have a problem with including this.  This does not guarantee that all disputes will disappear, but when disputes arise the non-breaching party can be protected by a well-written attorney fees provision.

Visit my website for free rental contracts and eviction forms: www.utahevictionlaw.com
Contact me for a free consultation.
Jeremy Shorts – Attorney at Law
Phone: 801-610-9879
Email: jeremy@utahevictionlaw.com

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