Arizona landlords who received money from a state program that aimed to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic filed nearly 2,500 eviction notices during the pandemic, an Arizona Republic investigation found.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s office launched the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund in August with $5 million to assist landlords whose tenants were not paying their rent during the COVID-19 crisis. The state added an additional $5 million to the fund in September after the initial funds quickly ran out.
A landlord who received almost $1 million from the property owner’s fund — the most of any landlord — filed for more than 350 evictions at apartment complexes across Maricopa County during the pandemic, The Republic found.
Another landlord filed for eviction on almost 30% of his tenants at a single Glendale apartment complex despite receiving $50,000 in assistance for the same property.
The Republic found that nearly half of the 633 Maricopa County properties that received assistance from the fund filed for evictions between March 24, 2020 — the day the first eviction moratorium took effect — and Dec. 31. An eviction filing signals an intent to evict but does not necessarily mean a tenant was evicted.
The state did not check to see if landlords had evicted tenants before awarding assistance — nor did it check to make sure landlords did not evict tenants after assistance was awarded, a spokesperson for the Arizona Housing Department said.
Janelle Johnsen, the spokesperson, said judges and constables are responsible for determining whether evictions are lawful.
“We believe this program helped to prevent evictions by reducing the financial penalty for property owners who had tenants not paying rent,” she said.
The Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund differed from other rental assistance programs across the state because it allowed landlords to apply directly for aid instead of requiring tenants to apply.
The Arizona Department of Housing, which oversaw a $7 million aid program directed at renters, didn’t handle the landlord fund. It was run by the governor’s Economic Recovery Management Team, but Gov. Doug Ducey’s office would not comment. It referred all questions to the Department of Housing.
Johnsen said the main purpose of the program was to help landlords, but staff also believed the program would prevent evictions.
Access the digital replica of USA TODAY and more than 200 local newspapers with your subscription.
Read Now in the e-Edition
A number of eviction moratoriums have been enacted by the state and federal governments to shield tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning with one ordered by Ducey, which took effect on March 24.
Evictions fell significantly in Maricopa County during the pandemic, indicating that the vast majority of landlords stopped evicting. But some found ways around the moratorium.
Transparency?:Arizona, cities won’t say if landlords filed to evict tenants after receiving aid
See also: Spending in program to aid landlords raises questions
About the landlord aid
The Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund provided funding to 4,204 rental units at 869 properties across the state between August and January, totaling nearly $10 million.
Landlords could apply for up to $2,000 per non-paying rental for up to seven months, with a limit of $50,000 per apartment complex.
The majority of the money went to metro Phoenix landlords. More than 1,600 rental units that received funding were in Phoenix proper, with a significant clustering in west and south Phoenix. More than 300 rental units in both Glendale and Mesa received funding, in addition to 219 rental units in Tempe.
Nearly 800 Tucson units received funding.
Other government-funded renter aid programs in Arizona during the pandemic were allotted and tracked through state housing agencies. The landlord fund money was not.
That concerned housing advocates because of the potential for landlords or renters to double-dip by applying to multiple pools of money through agencies that weren’t sharing information.
The Arizona Department of Housing refused to provide unit numbers of the rentals that received assistance at multifamily properties, making it impossible to check whether landlords double-dipped in multiple assistance programs or evicted tenants who had received rental assistance.
The Republic is fighting the state’s denial of public records.
$1 million in rental aid, 355 evictions
Properties managed by a Los Angeles company called Pro Residential Management received nearly $1 million of assistance from the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund — about 10% of the total awarded funds.
Hundreds of tenants received eviction notices from the landlord anyway.
Pro Residential Management owns and manages apartment units across Arizona, California, Nevada and Oklahoma, according to its website.
In a statement, Pro Residential said the company is only a management company and applied for rental assistance on behalf of the owners of the apartment complexes it manages. The assistance was passed on to the owners, the statement said.
However, it appears the same person controls the management company and the companies that own the apartment complexes.
The president of Pro Residential Management, Pratik Jogani, is also listed as the president or manager of the limited liability companies that own the apartment complexes that Pro Residential manages in Arizona, according to real estate records.
The company advertises 35 apartment complexes in Arizona, most of which are older, low-rise complexes in west Phoenix. Monthly rents range from about $700 to $1,400.
In early November, Pro Residential Management received $910,879 from the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund to cover missed rent for 648 tenants across 30 properties. Before that, the property owners had filed for 241 evictions at the same apartment complexes that eventually received money.
The assistance Pro Residential Management got from the state in November, which was more than any other landlord in Arizona received, didn’t stop evictions from being filed at the complexes the company managed.
In the two months after receiving state assistance, property owners filed for another 114 evictions against tenants at the same properties.
The Resort on 35th Avenue Apartments near Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix saw the most evictions filed during the pandemic at any single property managed by Pro Residential, with 44.
Pro Residential sought rental aid on behalf of the owners “as a way of keeping the business afloat, despite months of missed rent by hundreds of tenants,” the company said in a statement provided by its attorney Christopher Walker of the Law Offices of Scott M. Clark.
“There was nothing illegal about how these owners applied for and received the aid, nor was there anything illegal about any of the actions taken by Pro Residential on behalf of its clients,” the statement said.
Pro Residential said that if the company had not received assistance from the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund, “the costs of unpaid rent — and the cost of maintenance, property taxes and other business expenses — would ultimately be passed along to tenants who do pay their rent.”
“They would be unfairly forced to subsidize the rent of tenants who don’t pay, in much the same way as property owners have been forced to provide a year of free or drastically reduced rent for tenants who haven’t paid the rent. The answer? Not less eviction relief, but more. Because this owed rent and relief funding is a vital aspect of keeping these homes and apartment complexes viable for all tenants,” the statement said.
Evictions in Arizona: Hundreds may have been wrongfully evicted during pandemic
30% of renters at one complex got eviction notice
The Canyons on Colter, a 304-unit, low-rise Glendale apartment complex built in 1985, saw the most evictions at any single property that received assistance from the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund.
Next Round Asset Management, which owns The Canyons on Colter, filed for 82 evictions at the apartment complex during the pandemic.
Twenty-three evictions were filed before Next Round Asset Management received $50,000 in state assistance for that complex on Sept. 11. Fifty-nine were filed after.
Next Round Asset Management is based in Fremont, California, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission. In addition to The Canyons on Colter, the company owns one apartment complex in south Phoenix and three complexes in Tucson, according to the company’s website. The monthly rent ranges from $600-$1,100.
Next Round Asset Management filed for three evictions during the pandemic at its 64-unit south Phoenix apartment complex, Corona del Sol apartments, according to Maricopa County evictions records. The company received $4,778 from the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund for that property.
Chamberlin & Associates is the management company that operates The Canyons on Colter.
Cindy Owens, vice president of portfolio operations, said rental properties across the state have not received nearly enough assistance to make up for all of the debt accrued by renters. The Canyons on Colter tenants have $25,000 in delinquent debt just for March 2021, she said.
“When the August grant was applied for, residents were already delinquent potentially from March 2020-July 2020. Grant funds, in most cases, did not pay all delinquent rent owed,” Owens said, noting that some tenants also continued to rack up debt after the landlord received the grant money.
She said Chamberlin & Associates has tried to work with every tenant to apply for rental aid, but some renters refuse to talk with the management staff or apply for help — leaving landlords in a precarious situation.
Owens said that so long as tenants are making an honest effort to pay their rent, the management company isn’t rushing to file an eviction.
“We’re in the housing business. We want to keep people housed,” she said.
Landlords: Funds not nearly enough
The Arizona Multifamily Association, which represents rental property owners across the state, said in a statement that the only issue with the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund was that it wasn’t big enough.
“The state has not allocated and deployed nearly enough funding to cover all the unpaid rent in the state. And the money that was deployed via the (Rental Property Owner Preservation) fund was done on a first come, first serve basis. That left many property owners in crisis left out in the cold,” Arizona Multifamily Association spokesperson David Leibowitz said in a statement.
Leibowitz said he couldn’t comment on specific eviction cases but said it’s possible that renters owed more than the landlord received in assistance, which would allow them to move forward with an eviction. He also said not all evictions filed last year were forbidden under eviction moratoriums.
“Rental residents must comply with certain conditions, including actively working to procure rental assistance. If the renter did not comply, a judge and constable may agree to move forward with eviction,” Leibowitz said.
He said landlords do not have the authority to evict anyone on their own: An eviction must be granted by a judge and performed by a sworn constable.
“That legal process is in place precisely to prevent illegal evictions from taking place,” Leibowitz said.
A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Justice Courts said landlords have a responsibility to disclose all information to the court that would allow a judge to make a decision about the legality of an eviction.
Spokesperson Scott Davis said constables bear no responsibility in determining the lawfulness of an eviction and judges only can make a judgment based on evidence presented in court.
He said judges hearing eviction cases only were allowed to begin asking landlords whether they received rental assistance beginning in December under an administrative order by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Tenant advocate: ‘What disconnect is happening ?”
Chris Groninger, a consumer advocate tracking evictions and renter aid with the nonprofit Arizona Bar Foundation, said that the legal process doesn’t always shake out fairly, because about 98% of renters facing eviction in Maricopa County justice courts don’t have a lawyer helping them through the process.
Her organization is encouraging state and local governments to use some of their federal COVID-19 aid to provide legal support for tenants facing evictions to make sure they can take advantage of any moratorium or financial aid programs available.
“Eviction filings, especially in Maricopa County, have continued to rise despite rental assistance and despite state and federal directives to address public health,” Groninger said.
“At some point, we must ask ourselves – why is that? What disconnect is happening in the process that is not stopping eviction actions from being filed?”
Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-694-1823. Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS.
AUTHOR: Jessica Boehm, Catherine Reagor, and Ralph Chapoco