A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Wednesday rejected a challenge to Gov. Doug Ducey’s eviction moratorium, which gives tenants facing hardship from COVID-19 the ability to remain temporarily in their homes if they file certain paperwork.
Phoenix landlord Ann Gregory sued the governor and a lower-court judge, claiming the moratorium unconstitutionally prevented her from evicting a family living in her Surprise rental home who owed nearly $4,000 in unpaid rent and fees. The tenants said they had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The lawsuit argued the governor exceeded his authority, violated the Arizona Constitution and failed to compensate landlords for losses since Ducey in late March delayed eviction enforcement for thousands of Arizona renters who have suffered financially or become sick in the pandemic. The governor recently extended the moratorium until Oct. 31, as long as tenants meet requirements.
Not an abuse of Ducey’s power
Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury said the governor did not abuse his authority when he delayed eviction enforcement, and that he made the decision in the interest of public health and provided judges the flexibility to order evictions to proceed, if warranted.
The eviction moratorium “does not constitute an abuse of Governor Ducey’s discretion,” Coury wrote in his ruling. “The rational basis of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, by promoting physical distancing through the delay of evictions, exists and supports” the executive order.
Brian Stanley, the attorney representing Gregory Real Estate and Management, argued the government should pay landlords for the loss of rent.
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“The supposed reason for the order is we can’t have these people rendered homeless during the health emergency because they will spread the disease or won’t be able to stay at home during a stay-at-home order,” Stanley said in early July. But “if it’s really something that is necessary for the public good, the public bears the cost of doing it … To put all the burden on the landlord is not fair.”
However, Ducey’s executive order holds tenants responsible for paying all overdue rent and fees once the moratorium ends, Coury said. The governor “expressly protects a landlord’s rights to receive rent and to demand that a tenant observes all other obligations under lease agreement,” the Superior Court judge wrote.
And the government hopes to compensate landlords soon. The Arizona Department of Housing, counties and cities set aside up to $80 million to help renters pay their bills, although the aid has been slow to arrive.
The lawsuit contended only the state Legislature could delay evictions, but Coury said Ducey has the power to act during public emergencies.
“The Governor’s Executive Order represents respect for legislative intent, the conscientious discharge of the Governor’s Oath of Office, and fidelity to the Governor’s obligation to responsibly use the powers conferred by Arizona law to ‘fill in the details’ needed to deal with emergency situations,” Coury wrote.
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He added that the Legislature could reconvene if lawmakers wanted to eliminate or restrict the governor’s eviction moratorium.
The justice of the peace who decided the Surprise family should not be kicked out of Gregory’s rental home, based on the governor’s executive order, was justified, Coury determined.
It “was not an abuse of discretion,” the Superior Court judge said.
The Governor’s Office and Stanley did not immediately provide comment.
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AUTHOR: Rebekah L. Sanders