Landlords wrongfully acted to evict metro Phoenix renters during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic despite a federal law protecting tenants from losing their homes if they couldn’t pay rent.
More than 900 evictions were filed against tenants who likely should have been protected by the federal CARES Act, according to an Arizona Republic investigation.
Most of those renters also were wrongfully charged hundreds of dollars in late and legal fees.
Many of them had no lawyer to help them navigate the eviction process, no one to tell them about legal protections and nowhere to go when they were locked out of their homes, according to an Arizona Republic investigation.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 26 to provide fast economic help to people hurt by the pandemic, stated landlords with federally backed mortgages couldn’t evict tenants before July 26 for not paying rent. Nearly half of the nation’s mortgages are federally backed.
Tenants living in apartments, condominiums or rental homes with federally backed mortgages didn’t have to prove they were impacted by COVID-19. Under the CARES Act, they were automatically protected from eviction for not paying rent.
An Arizona Republic investigation into the more than 8,000 evictions filed in Maricopa County during that period found more than 10% appeared to violate the CARES Act.
Not all of those 900-plus tenants were kicked out. Some paid their rent in time to stop the evictions, even though they weren’t required to, and others had their cases dismissed for unknown reasons.
However, the CARES Act should have stopped landlords from even starting the eviction process in court.
Landlords also have struggled during the pandemic, and the CARES Act allowed property owners with federally backed mortgages to skip their mortgage payments until the end of the year. This means some of the landlords who were allowed to miss their payments evicted renters who could not make theirs.
Landlord representatives and attorneys acknowledged that some evictions may have been filed in conflict with the CARES Act but blamed the federal government’s lack of clarity for any potential errors.
Evictions did slow substantially in metro Phoenix during the CARES Act protection and Governor Doug Ducey’s eviction moratorium. But they did not halt like in other cities around the country.
Hundreds of tenants who should have been protected either by the CARES Act eviction ban or the state’s eviction ban were kicked out of their Phoenix area rentals.
The state court system recently acknowledged that landlords may have not followed the CARES Act and launched a task force to look into potential wrongful evictions and remedies for impacted renters.
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Renters: Scared, struggling and homeless
The Republic found hundreds of court filings of metro Phoenix renters who had been threatened with wrongful evictions or locked out of their federally backed apartments.
The Republic researched all of the eviction claims filed in Maricopa County Justice Courts during the CARES Act and checked them against mortgage documents and databases to determine which properties should have been protected under the federal law.
The Republic then reviewed all the eviction filings for the federally protected properties, case by case.
Dozens of renters contacted by The Republic recounted the fear, confusion and shame they felt as they tried to remain in their homes.
One woman started to lose her hair after she received a July eviction notice for a Scottsdale apartment covered by the CARES Act.
A single mother of four in a Mesa apartment, also covered by the CARES Act, threw out some of her family’s beds because she feared being evicted and locked out of her home without enough time to move everything.
A north Phoenix woman is now homeless and living out of her truck with her 3-year-old daughter and dog after the owner of her mobile home park evicted her during the summer, even though she said she showed documentation that her income as a travel consultant plummeted because of the pandemic.
After being evicted in July, another family struggled to pay for a weekly motel in the West Valley so their boy can have Wi-Fi to attend school. They can’t find another apartment because of the black mark on their credit.
The federal eviction moratorium violations happened at the same time many renters also were protected by a state moratorium to keep tenants hurt by COVID-19 safe in their homes.
“Families are being devastated by illegal evictions in Arizona. It’s a nightmare for too many,” said Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy and litigation at the Arizona nonprofit Community Legal Services.
“These are evictions that shouldn’t be happening. The CARES Act is clear that evictions for not paying rent shouldn’t have happened.”
CARES Act confusion for tenants, landlords
The federal government swiftly passed legislation in late March to protect millions of renters against eviction as the coronavirus pandemic began to threaten the national economy.
The CARES Act was explicit. If a property had a federally backed loan, a landlord could not legally evict tenants for failing to pay rent between March 26 and late July. After the act ended, landlords had to give those tenants 30 days’ notice before evicting them, essentially giving renters a reprieve until the end of August.
Scott Williams, whose law firm Zona Law Group represents landlords, said the CARES Act passed without any warning for property owners, property managers, rental agents or attorneys, resulting in chaos and confusion as to how to properly interpret the law.
“No one — not the federal government, lenders or the courts — notified property owners how to comply with this law or how to determine if a property currently has a federally backed mortgage,” Williams said.
Many Arizona landlords with federally backed rentals did follow the CARES Act and didn’t file evictions on tenants when it was active. Evictions in Maricopa County decreased by 70% between April and July, compared with the same four months in 2019.
“That happened because we did everything in our power to follow the CARES Act despite rampant confusion and lack of communication from appropriate government authorities,” Williams said.
Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association, said the CARES Act was rushed and the federal government failed to communicate with landlords and tenants — the people most affected by the law — causing confusion in addition to “massive financial stress.”
“In the midst of the pandemic, some rental owners may have sought evictions that – in retrospect, with more and better information available – should not have been filed. These cases don’t represent our industry as a whole. In fact, they are very much the exception and not the rule,” LeVinus said.
Chris Groninger, a consumer advocate with the nonprofit Arizona Bar Foundation, also has been researching eviction filings. She agrees the federal protection for renters was confusing.
It’s difficult to obtain information about which properties are covered by the CARES Act, she said, because mortgage records are not always conspicuously available and federal mortgage websites are sometimes inaccurate.
However, landlords — the ones who pay those mortgages — should have known their mortgages were federally backed and had the responsibility to inform their tenants of the protection, Groninger said.
According to Groninger’s research, the total number of wrongful evictions under the CARES Act in Maricopa County’s Justice Court system could top 2,000.
That information was submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts in early November at the first meeting of a new state task force looking into wrongful evictions.
The CARES Act was passed with no penalties for landlords that don’t follow the laws. Until recently, only a few landlords or their attorneys have faced any scrutiny over whether their evictions violated the CARES Act.
County justice courts, where evictions are handled, didn’t require landlords to declare whether a property was covered under the CARES Act on Arizona eviction filings until after a state Supreme Court ruling July 7, about two weeks before the protection expired.
Community Legal Services and other housing advocates are working to find renters illegally evicted under the CARES Act and Arizona eviction moratorium to help them get money back from fees and other costs and erase the judgement from their record.
‘The most scary thing of my life’
Luz Ryan helped people manage their debt before COVID-19 hit. Then she faced eviction herself.
Ryan, a Colombian immigrant, has lived in the same north Scottsdale apartment complex for more than five years with her daughter, a biology major at Arizona State University considering medical school.
When the pandemic hit, the debt relief company she runs out of her apartment took a hit. Many of her clients, facing their own financial hardships, could not pay Ryan promptly.
She managed to pay her $1,600 rental payment in April and May, but come June her business hadn’t rebounded and she couldn’t afford the payment.
Ryan, 55, asked the apartment manager for an extension, hoping that paying on time for the past five years would allow her some wiggle room. The manager refused and told Ryan that she would evict her if she didn’t pay up immediately.
“I’m not from here. I’m from Colombia. Sometimes when we move to another country, another culture, another language, it’s hard for us. Because sometimes we see in different ways,” Ryan said. “If I had somebody who lived here for 5-6 years, I think I would have more (concern for the) human part than the money.”
Ryan said she spent most of June and July crying with her daughter and calling nonprofit lawyers and other advocates to try to find a way to stay in her apartment. She said her hair started falling out from the stress.
Ryan reached out to the city of Scottsdale, and a social worker helped her access rental assistance funds from Maricopa County. The social worker wrote a letter for Ryan’s apartment manager saying that Ryan would receive three months of rental assistance but the money wouldn’t arrive until late July.
The state, county and some cities allocated more than $90 million in assistance for renters this summer, but many of the programs were slow to get off the ground. Others ran out of funds quickly.
Ryan’s apartment owner proceeded with eviction despite the promise of impending aid. The complex hired the law firm of Hull, Holliday and Holliday to take her to court to force her to pay up and evict her.
The McDowell Mountain Justice Court approved a $3,843 judgment against Ryan for two months’ rent, late fees, attorneys fees and court costs and ordered the constable to evict her.
The company that owns Desert Park Vista Apartments, where Ryan lives, has a Freddie Mac-backed loan on the property.
Ryan should have been protected from eviction for failure to pay rent, but Ryan did not know what type of loan her apartment complex had and therefore didn’t know she was protected under the CARES Act.
Ryan jumped when the constable thumped on her north Scottsdale apartment door three times in late July.
“It was the most scary thing of my life,” Ryan said.
But she was prepared with letters explaining she had lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter from the Scottsdale social worker and a copy of Ducey’s executive order explaining the state’s eviction moratorium.
After the constable read through her proof of COVID-19 impact, he chose not to evict her because of Ducey’s executive order — giving her cover from eviction until her rental assistance kicked in in August.
Although she didn’t get evicted, the eviction court documents on her record have created issues.
After the constable allowed her to stay, Ryan’s apartment manager told her that the complex would not renew her lease after September.
Ryan, whose business had bounced back, looked at moving to a similarly priced apartment in the area, but her application was denied because of the eviction record. She asked her apartment manager to send a note to the new apartment to confirm she didn’t owe any money. But even with that letter, the new complex wouldn’t take the risk.
Right before she was set to move out, her current apartment complex got a new manager who told her she could renew her lease and even move to a nicer unit.
It was a miracle after a nightmare, Ryan said.
But in mid-October, her apartment manager alerted her that she owed almost $2,000. The rental assistance from Maricopa County had covered only her base rent. Costs like trash and water fees, taxes and other miscellaneous charges still racked up and the landlord wanted the debt paid by the end of November, or Ryan could face eviction again.
Ryan doesn’t know how she will afford the $2,000 payment and pay her rent. Her daughter, who works part time at a restaurant, is considering skipping her car payment to help with the rent.
Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae drop the ball, landlord rep says
Struggling tenants unable to pay rent were told to check to see if their apartments or homes were covered by the CARES Act. But that was far from easy.
Renters had to search by address on multiple government websites. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the biggest federal backers of residential mortgages in the U.S. — don’t have complete, publicly available lists of their properties.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also backs loans on rentals, and complete lists aren’t available from that agency, either.
Searching those websites can be difficult because one property may have multiple addresses, so renters can search the wrong address, housing advocates say.
Some rental properties’ mortgages only could be found on loan documents filed with the Maricopa County recorder, The Republic discovered. That’s not something the typical renter would know how to find.
“The average renter wouldn’t have been able to find out if their home was covered by the CARES Act,” said Groninger, who is the chief strategist at the nonprofit Arizona Bar Foundation.
“Only five of the more than 20 types of federally backed loans can be searched on government websites.”
After hearing from renters who were being evicted in apartments potentially protected under the CARES Act, Groninger started tracking evictions daily in June. She took screenshots of rental addresses that showed up one day on a government website as a federally protected rental property, only to disappear a few days later.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were aware their search tools for renters weren’t 100% accurate or complete. They disclosed that on their websites.
“Fannie Mae makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee regarding the accuracy or completeness of the results. Information that does not match our records exactly may return inaccurate results,” the website said.
LeVinus of the Arizona Multifamily Association said property owners also struggled to find out whether their mortgages were federally backed. She said Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and other federal housing programs should have directly notified owners of the CARES Act’s implications on their properties.
“While the eviction ban contained in the act may sound simple, it is not an easy process to determine whether a property has a federally backed mortgage. It’s not as simple as doing a Google search or looking at a statement and seeing to whom you write your mortgage check,” LeVinus said.
‘Trying to take care of my kids, find a job and survive’
Mary Gomez, 32, a mother of four, makes breakfast while her children attend virtual school at their apartment in Mesa, Arizona.
Mary Gomez and her four children live in a central Mesa apartment that was covered by the CARES Act eviction ban, but she didn’t know it in June when her complex’s property managers started asking her daily about paying rent.
“I was working in the insurance industry for five years when I was laid off in March,” said Gomez, who used her savings to pay her rent through May. “I applied for rent help and unemployment, but nothing was coming through. I lost my car and my child care.”
She said at first her apartment manager at Falcon Glen was understanding and took partial payments but then the manager encouraged her to move and asked for daily updates on when she could catch up on her rent.
When Gomez received an eviction judgment in September, she panicked and started clearing out her apartment. She feared leaving her belongings in the apartment after a lockout would affect getting her security deposit back — and she hoped to get her deposit back to pay off her $4,000 rent and late fee bill.
“I couldn’t afford a big storage unit, so I had to throw out some of our beds and other things we really miss now,” Gomez said. “I was just trying to take care of my kids, find a job and survive,” she said. “I didn’t know about the CARES Act or eviction moratoriums.”
Mary Gomez, 32, with her four children from left: Gigi Gomez, 15, Memarie Gomez, 10, Samuel Militello, 4, and Hailee Gomez, 16, at their apartment in Mesa, Arizona.
When Gomez attended her eviction hearing, the judge told her that she could qualify for another eviction moratorium, this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That allowed her to stay in her apartment. She also recently received rental aid and utility payment aid.
Thayne Cullimore, the eviction attorney for her apartment complex, said the landlord has not challenged Gomez’s CDC declaration under the national moratorium, and “there is no plan to file a new eviction” against her.
CARES Act protects landlords through 2020
While the lack of rental income has undoubtedly created issues for landlords during the pandemic, those with federally backed loans also had a reprieve.
Property owners with federally backed loans can skip payments through forbearance plans under the CARES Act.
Most of the deferred payment plans for landlords with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans have been extended until the end of 2020.
Tenants in rentals with Fannie and Freddie forbearance agreements can’t be evicted while the property owners are receiving the federal aid, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates the two corporations.
“Landlords in forbearance must also inform tenants of other protections, including at least a 30-day notice to vacate, no fees or penalties for not paying rent and the flexibility to repay owed rent over time and not in a lump sum,” according to the regulator.
Information on which rental property owners have deferred mortgage payments under the federal programs hasn’t been released.
LeVinus said the forbearance allowed under the CARES Act did not provide total relief for landlords because mortgages represent “only a small portion of the monthly rental expenses.” Additionally, the forbearance only pauses payments — it doesn’t forgive them.
“At the conclusion of the forbearance period, owners will be required to repay any missed or reduced payments regardless of whether or not they actually received rent during the moratoriums,” LeVinus said.
‘Egregious’ eviction excuses, advocate says
The CARES Act only provided eviction protection to renters for not paying rent. Landlords still were able to evict their tenants if they committed a criminal offense or violated the terms of their lease in some other way.
Some advocates and experts believe landlords and their attorneys used this caveat to try to get around the CARES Act protection by evicting people who owed rent on low-level infractions like noise complaints or unauthorized guests.
The Arizona Republic found 150 “immediate evictions” in CARES Act-covered rentals that were filed to evict tenants who owed rent by accusing them of noncriminal breaches of their lease, including having a barbecue on a patio, stomping, an extra pet and “excessive traffic.”
Loretha Young received a court summons June 4, notifying her that her landlord Citi-Sun City Partners III had filed an eviction complaint against her for allowing an “unauthorized occupant” to stay in her Peoria apartment.
In the complaint, her landlord, represented by the Law Offices of Scott M. Clark, also claimed Young owed $992 in rent.
In court documents, Young explained that the person staying in her apartment was a family member whose roommate had to self-quarantine because of COVID-19.
“I nor my family member were by no means trying to take advantage of any rules or policies — just trying to keep each other safe with minimal contact tracking means,” Young wrote.
Her rent was late because of confusion with the online payment system, she said.
Her landlord continued with the eviction proceedings.
Tannisha Hill’s landlord, Glendale Enterprise Live Work Lofts LLC, moved to evict her in June after her child and a friend ding-dong-ditched some of their neighbors late at night. She also owed $950 in rent.
The Law Offices of Scott M. Clark also represented Hill’s landlord.
Both Hill and Young lived in properties with federally backed mortgages and had federal subsidies that helped them pay their rent. Both of those parameters meant they could not be evicted for nonpayment of rent under the CARES Act.
Both women contacted Community Legal Services, which agreed to take their cases. Attorneys for Hill and Young challenged the validity of the lease breaches, and both landlords agreed to dismiss their cases.
Christopher Walker, of the Law Offices of Scott M. Clark, maintained that both women’s evictions were filed for reasons other than nonpayment of rent.
Walker said the landlord worked out an agreement with Hill at court “to preserve her housing and she remains in her home to date.”
Walker said Young’s landlord moved to evict her because her Section 8 housing voucher, which pays for a portion of her rent, specifies only one person can live in the unit. The landlord ultimately agreed to vacate the judgment and worked with Young on her rent balance.
Bridge said the women’s cases were “egregious,” and there are more renters like them who can fight wrongful evictions or win a court case or a settlement with their former landlords.
In court, renters typically lose eviction cases
Arizona’s eviction process moves fast. Tenants can be locked out of their home within days after receiving an eviction judgment.
Renters facing eviction are summoned to appear at a hearing, but most don’t, either because they don’t understand the process or can’t get there at the set time.
Gomez, who rode her bike several miles to her hearing, said she was the only renter to show up in eviction court that day.
Only about 2% of all tenants facing evictions between March and August in Maricopa County had legal help. About 94% of all landlords filing evictions had lawyers, according to Groninger’s research.
New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Minneapolis provide free legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction.
Only about 2% of all tenants facing evictions between March and August in Maricopa County had legal help. About 94% of all landlords filing evictions had lawyers, according to research done by Chris Groninger, a consumer advocate with the nonprofit Arizona Bar Foundation.
Using CARES Act money, the city of Phoenix funded a $1 million legal eviction-prevention program with Community Legal Services.
Many housing advocates were concerned about Arizona’s eviction process before the pandemic.
Matthew Desmond, chief investigator for the Eviction Lab at Princeton, said there is no one source for evictions in Arizona and finding information on filings is hard for both tenants and the people trying to help them.
He and other housing advocates say the state’s eviction system leans toward landlords and their attorneys.
Kimberlyn Malinka was evicted from her mobile home park in north Phoenix in early June, about two weeks after her landlord filed the case against her. She said she didn’t receive court documents that the court told her had been sent and didn’t understand why her landlord wouldn’t communicate with her.
Malinka said she submitted documentation showing her salary had shrunk due to COVID to qualify for Arizona’s eviction moratorium, but it didn’t help. She also tried to work with the post office to track any letters that should have come to her from the court, but couldn’t.
She has been unable to get unemployment and has been living in her truck with her daughter and small dog since June.
“I don’t understand how this could happen. I was trying to pay rent,” Malinka said. “The whole thing was so fast and so confusing. I lost my home, and I still don’t understand why or how it could have happened.”
Courts look into wrongful acts
Research from the Arizona Bar Foundation shows about 1,200 of the 2,000 potentially wrongful evictions under the CARES Act in Maricopa County had court judgments.
That means the cases weren’t dropped or dismissed.
“The initial findings claim that some eviction cases did proceed in violation of the CARES Act. The courts have not undertaken our own review of those findings, but we have no reason to dismiss the research done by the Arizona Bar Foundation or the Arizona Republic,” said Scott Davis, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Justice Courts.
“The findings are concerning because they mean tenants who should have qualified for legal protection did not receive it.”
The Republic investigation found several eviction cases that didn’t include information on whether the property was covered by the federal law, even after the courts on July 7 began requiring attorneys to do so on behalf of their clients.
The Republic also found instances where attorneys for landlords signed documents stating that a property was not covered by the CARES Act when the property did in fact have a federally backed mortgage.
“With a myriad of reasons landlords may make an eviction filing, it has always been incumbent upon them to ensure they are complying with the laws,” Davis said.
Landlord advocates say the state courts needed to take more responsibility for providing information on the CARES Act.
“Every single eviction in Arizona requires due process — a court hearing where both sides make their case. These matters always include the courts examining whether an eviction has been properly filed and comports with existing law. The courts must act as the last line of defense here, as they do with evictions on a routine basis,” LeVinus said.
But Arizona judges must rely on the information they receive from rental owners and their attorneys, Davis said.
He said the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct prevents judges from independently researching a case before them, so “judges hearing an eviction case are not allowed to ask or go online to check if a property is/was covered by the CARES Act. That must be addressed by the parties” involved in the case, he said.
Renters who think they have been illegally or wrongfully evicted can file a Motion to Set Aside, which removes the judgment from a tenant’s court record.
Davis said 134 tenants have filed this motion since late March.
Renters can also file an Unlawful Ouster appeal that would allow them to move back into their rental home. Only one tenant has won on this type of appeal in Maricopa County since March, and the landlord is appealing it.
Neither of the legal filings will get tenants any monetary damages. That would require a civil lawsuit.
Community Legal Services recently launched a campaign to help renters who were wrongfully evicted under the CARES Act.
Bridge said the nonprofit legal group can file the two Arizona court motions on behalf of renters who also can sue to recoup attorney and late fees, as well as other costs from an eviction that shouldn’t have happened.
Where are most evictions happening?
An affordable west Phoenix apartment complex with federal financial backing tried to evict the most residents during the CARES Act, according to the Republic’s analysis.
The Flats at 2030, which was bought by a Houston group with the same name last year, had 31 eviction filings during the protection timeframe. Some of the filings were immediate for other reasons, but many were for not paying rent.
The complex has 263 apartments, so almost 12% of its renters faced eviction. Also, it would be difficult for renters to see if they had protection under the CARES Act because the complex lists an address on eviction filings of 2030 W. Indian School Road.
The address of the complex on the Freddie Mac and property records is 2028 W. Indian School Road.
The Flats at 2030, located at 2028 W. Indian School Road in Phoenix, had 31 eviction filings during the protection timeframe. Of the complex’s 263 apartments, nearly 12% of its renters faced eviction.
Walker, whose firm represents The Flats at 2030, said his client mistakenly believed the property was not covered by the CARES Act for the first few months that the law was in place. He said there was “substantial confusion when this law took effect and few resources available for property owners to confirm their property was backed by a federally backed loan.”
“My client in no way intended to violate the CARES Act. My client has since vacated all judgments wrongly granted by the courts. My client has advised me that some of the tenants who were subject to these judgments voluntarily vacated their units well before the constable arrived. Others were able to resolve the issue with my client directly,” Walker said.
A Nevada group was the next top eviction pursuer on properties covered by the federal renter protection. It filed at least 60 actions to evict tenants in three Maryvale complexes: the Cameron Apartments at 5421 W. Indian School Road, Parkwood Apartments at 6751 W. Indian School Road and Desert Point Apartments at 6405 W. McDowell Road.
Groups led by Brett Heers own the complexes, and the evictions were filed under the LLC Vintage Apartments (for Cameron and Parkwood) and Desert Point. The filing address for Desert Point is also different from the property record, making it tougher for renters to find.
Maricopa County property records show the apartments are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac financing.
The Arizona Republic identified a renter at one of the Maryvale apartments who was served with five eviction notices from March through August. Each month, the tenant paid his rent in time to prevent a constable from changing his locks. But the late fees and attorneys fees he had to pay with each eviction filing substantially increased his monthly payments.
Hull, Holliday and Holliday, the eviction attorney for the owner of the Marvyale apartments, said in a statement that initially it “verified” the properties didn’t have federal funding.
“We recently discovered that we may have received inaccurate information and that some funding may be backed by a federal mortgage,” said Hull, Holliday on behalf of the Houston company.
“We regret any actions that made it more difficult for some residents and families. We already have begun to look into this matter and it’s our intention to remedy this very unfortunate situation if we verify that a property was covered by the CARES Act.”
Eviction makes finding housing hard
Evictions can stay on a renter’s credit record for as long as seven years, which makes a wrongful filing even more painful for people.
Metro Phoenix’s rental market remained strong during the pandemic, with rents rising and many complexes remaining nearly full. Those conditions meant landlords didn’t have to sign leases with renters with bad credit.
Donna Dale lost her job at a restaurant in mid-March and began applying for renter aid and unemployment right away.
She tried to check if her west Phoenix apartment was covered by the CARES Act and couldn’t find it on any list. To qualify for Arizona’s eviction moratorium, Dale submitted documents showing how she and her boyfriend had both lost jobs because of COVID-19. Dale also applied for renter aid.
Despite all her efforts and requests for rental and legal help, Dale and her family were evicted July 30. The eviction on her and her boyfriend’s credit, as well as the deposit needed to move into an apartment, made an inexpensive motel the family’s only option.
“We needed to have Wi-Fi for my son to go to school,” Dale said. “We are paying all our money to the motel and takeout because we don’t have a kitchen anymore. I don’t know what to do. It’s a nightmare.”
Because Dale has been evicted, she’s not eligible for the approximately $50 million in Arizona renter aid still available.
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More renter and landlord help?
The worst is likely still to come for Arizona renters.
Although The Republic found more than 900 renters threatened with wrongful eviction under the CARES Act eviction protection, and hundreds more landlords who ignored the state and federal eviction moratoriums, the majority of landlords did halt evictions.
That is evident in the substantial decrease in eviction filings in Maricopa County beginning in March.
While the CARES Act protection and the state eviction moratorium have expired, the CDC moratorium, which halts evictions for tenants who can prove a COVID-19 impact, is still in place.
It is set to expire on Jan. 1. At that time, tenants who failed to make rent but were protected under the various laws and moratoriums will have to pay back all of the money they owe — immediately — or face eviction.
“Arizona could see 150,000 evictions by the end of 2021,” said Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “We need to fix as much as we can of what’s broken with our eviction process as fast as we can. And we need a lot more renter aid.”
Housing advocates in Arizona and across the nation are asking Congress to pass a second iteration of the CARES Act with more money for rental assistance and possibly another eviction moratorium for federally backed properties. This time, however, they hope the moratorium comes with punishments for landlords who don’t comply.
LeVinus said her organization also is pushing for more rental assistance, either from the state or federal government. She warned that some property owners may slip into foreclosure because they’ve foregone rental payments for so many months.
“Nine months of no rent — and no future prospects for payment — will continue to push property owners toward foreclosure and bankruptcy,” she said.
Ducey still has about $400 million in CARES Act dollars that he could choose to allocate for rental assistance before the end of the year. So far, the state has dedicated about $17 million for landlord and tenant assistance.
A spokesperson for the Arizona governor did not directly answer a question about whether Ducey would allocate additional state funds for rental assistance but noted about $50 million of rental assistance still is available through city, county and nonprofit funds.
“We want to continue to make sure we are providing all resources necessary to protect public health and respond to the pandemic while ensuring a strong and viable social safety net,” spokesperson Patrick Ptak said.
A guide to eviction moratoriums
The state and federal government enacted multiple eviction moratoriums during the COVID-19 pandemic. They all had different rules, end dates and qualifications that made it difficult for renters and landlords to follow.
CARES Act moratorium
Date enacted: March 26
Expiration date: July 26, but landlords had to give 30 days’ notice before proceeding with eviction, essentially extending the protection to Aug. 26.
Qualifications: The CARES Act eviction protection only covered renters who lived in properties with federally backed loans or received housing assistance from the government. Renters did not have to prove a COVID-19 impact to qualify. Landlords were not allowed to start the eviction process for tenants who couldn’t pay rent. Landlords could evict for other reasons, including police arrests or domestic violence situations.
Arizona eviction moratorium
Date enacted: March 24
Expiration date: Oct. 31
Qualifications: Tenants had to show their landlord proof of a medical condition, quarantine order or substantial loss of income because of COVID-19. Constables were ordered not to enforce writs of restitution for renters who could demonstrate that proof. Beginning Aug. 22, renters also had to provide proof that they had applied for rental assistance.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium
Date enacted: Sept. 4
Expiration date: Dec. 31
Qualifications: Tenants must sign a declaration stating they lost income during the pandemic, can’t make full rent payments, will try to make partial rent payments, had applied for rental help and confirm that an eviction would leave them homeless or in cramped, unsafe living conditions. Renters can’t earn more than $99,000 a year to qualify. Couples, who file joint tax returns, can make twice that much and qualify.
Guide to tenant assistance
Phoenix Human Services Department
Funds remaining: $7.8 million
Rent, mortgage, utility and water assistance available to Phoenix residents impacted by COVID-19.
Beginning at 8 a.m. each Monday, call 602-534-AIDE (2433) to schedule an appointment.
Find more information online through Wildfire, the organization distributing the funds.
Funds remaining: $600,000
Rent, mortgage, utility and water assistance available to Phoenix residents impacted by COVID-19.
Mesa residents can apply online or call 480-644-CARE (2273) for assistance.
Maricopa County Human Services Department
Funds remaining: $6.5 million
Residents who live in Maricopa County but outside of Phoenix and Mesa can apply for rental assistance through the county’s Human Services Department.
Renters can complete a pre-application on the county’s website or go to one of the local community action program offices.
Arizona Department of Housing
Funds remaining: $2.85 million
Rent assistance for Arizona residents
Renters can complete a pre-qualification form online.
Other statewide renter assistance can be found at: https://housing.az.gov/general-public/rental-assistance-resources-eviction-prevention
Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.
Reach Catherine Reagor at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @catherinereagor.
Reach Jessica Boehm at email@example.com or 480-694-1823. Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS.
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AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor and Jessica Boehm