A Phoenix landlord is suing Gov. Doug Ducey over an executive order temporarily delaying evictions for thousands of Arizona renters who have lost pay or become sick during the pandemic.
The landlord, Ann Gregory of Gregory Real Estate and Management, is asking a court to allow an eviction to proceed against a family in a Surprise rental home who owed nearly $4,000 in unpaid rent and late fees as of mid-May.
The lawsuit argues Ducey’s eviction moratorium exceeds his authority, violates the Arizona Constitution and fails to pay landlords for the losses they are experiencing. The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in June, and the governor was scheduled to be served Wednesday.
Governor spokesman Patrick Ptak said Ducey wasn’t backing down.
“We stand by our order. This was an important step to take in March during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty,” Ptak said.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pphx/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html
120-day eviction moratorium runs through July 22
Ducey announced March 24 that renters would not be kicked out of their homes if they gave landlords proof that:
- Someone in the home was quarantined because of a diagnosis or symptoms of the new coronavirus.
- A tenant’s health conditions put them at high risk for contracting the virus.
- A tenant lost their job or faced a pay cut due to COVID-19.
- A tenant couldn’t work due to caring for a child who normally would be in school.
The governor ordered all accumulated rent and late fees would come due once a tenant’s health or income improved or the order expired July 22, whichever came first.
The mandate allowed justices of the peace to continue issuing eviction judgments but required constables to delay enforcement if tenants provided the correct paperwork.
Since Ducey’s order, evictions have dropped significantly, a sign that many landlords may be working out payment plans with renters or may be waiting to file for evictions when the governor’s order expires.
Of Maricopa County landlords that sought to remove renters in recent months, judges have approved about 1,700 eviction writs but, in eligible cases, constables have delayed enforcement.
A fraction of landlords have filed appeals, arguing their tenants don’t qualify for the moratorium, according to justice courts. The majority of the time, landlords have been successful in winning enforcement.
But when Gregory appealed, she lost.
Justice Miles Keegan acknowledged the case was unusually contentious and said tenants Casey and Kinslee Radermacher refused to provide “crucial information” about their income, according to court records.
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But the fact that the Radermachers were receiving unemployment benefits showed they were facing hardship and were eligible for the eviction moratorium, Keegan wrote in his decision.
The Arizona Republic was unable to reach the Radermachers.
Forced to ‘sacrifice (their) property rights’ for the public good, suit claims
Brian Stanley, a Phoenix attorney seeking to challenge the governor’s order, connected with Gregory and filed the lawsuit on her behalf.
“I believe the court should take this opportunity to defend the constitution by saying, ‘No, the governor does not have the power to make laws by unilateral decree, even in an emergency,'” Stanley told The Republic.
If the challenge is successful, it could set a precedent for other eviction cases.
The lawsuit argues:
- The governor doesn’t have authority under the Arizona Constitution to order courts or constables to delay an eviction, even in a public health emergency.
- Forcing landlords to “sacrifice (their) property rights” for the public good, even if legal, would require the government to make “just compensation” to the landlord.
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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. 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.”
Arizona did launch a rental assistance program in March designed to pay landlords up to $2,000 per month for each eligible renter who applied for help. However, the state has been slow to dole out the funds.
More than 17,000 Arizonans have applied for the state rental assistance, but only about 1,100 have received it, according to the Arizona Department of Housing. Nearly 80% of the funding, or about $3.9 million, remains unspent.
Housing advocates worry a tidal wave of evictions could hit in late July and August when Ducey’s order is scheduled to expire and renters struggle to pay months of back rent.
Landlords say the eviction delay is hurting their bottom lines and could result in mass foreclosures if tenants don’t start paying soon.
Can’t pay your rent? Here’s how to get help
1. If you have lost at least 10% of your normal income due to COVID-19, you can apply for up to $2,000 per month in rental assistance from the Arizona Department of Housing: https://housing.az.gov/general-public/eviction-prevention-assistance
2. You can file paperwork with your landlord to delay eviction through July 22. Your landlord can still file for an eviction order against you, but following these steps should prevent a constable from locking you out of your home:
- Tell your landlord in writing that you have lost income or you or a household member have been quarantined because of COVID-19 using a form like this: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6819854/Covid19FormFillable.pdf.
- Provide documentation such as a doctor’s note or pay stubs. Write a statement explaining why you are eligible for help if you don’t have documentation.
- Keep copies of your form and documents.
- Send a copy of your form and documents through certified mail or hand-deliver them to your landlord and keep a record of the date it was submitted.
3. Ask your landlord if they have a federally backed mortgage. If so, the property owner can receive assistance from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in exchange for not evicting tenants hurt by the pandemic: https://www.fanniemae.com/portal/media/corporate-news/2020/renters-covid-19-multifamily-7002.html.
4. Complexes that accept Section 8 funds or use federally backed mortgages are banned from evicting tenants until July 25, after which landlords must provide 30 days’ notice. Federally backed mortgages include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: https://www.nhlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2020.03.27-NHLP-CARES-Act-Eviction-Moratorium-Summary.pdf
Are you a renter or landlord affected by COVID-19? Do you need help? Do you have a question? Contact consumer reporter Rebekah L. Sanders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @RebekahLSanders.
AUTHOR: Rebekah L. Sanders