Evictions and Claims of Ownership

Claims of Ownership in Justice Court Evictions

Eviction lawsuits are designed to address the issue of possession and not ownership. Eviction lawsuits are to provide a summary, speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of premises withheld by tenants, and for this reason this objective would be entirely frustrated if the tenants were permitted to deny the landlord’s title, or to interpose customary and usual defenses permissible in the ordinary action at law.

The merits of the title may not be inquired into in eviction actions, otherwise the action would not afford a summary, speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of the rental property. The limited scope of eviction cases is explained in A.R.S. § 22-201(D) which states;

Justice Court Judges, “have jurisdiction to try the right to possession of real property when title or ownership is not a subject of inquiry in the action. If in any such action the title or ownership of real property becomes an issue, the justice shall so certify in the court record, at once stop further proceedings in the action and forward all papers together with a certified copy of the court record in the action to the Superior Court, where the action shall be docketed and determined as though originally brought in the Superior Court.”

A.R.S. § 22-201(D)

transfer to the superior court

Notice of Transfer to Superior Court. If the Justice Court judge rules that the eviction case should be transferred to the Superior Court then the Justice Court will file a Notice of Transfer and send the complete file to the Superior Court.

Beginning of the Eviction in the Superior Court. Once an eviction lawsuit has been transferred from the Justice Court to the Superior Court, it’s as if the case was re-starting. For instance, the filing fee of $333 (as of 2024) must be paid and the tenants must be re-served with the date and time of the upcoming hearing.

Initial Eviction Hearing in the Superior Court. The initial eviction hearing in the Superior Court will be fairly quick, similar to that of the Justice Court. If the tenant appears and presents legal arguments of ownership then the Superior Court judge will set the matter for trial.

Eviction Trials in the Superior Court. At the eviction trial, both parties will present their legal arguments, documentation and testimony that support their positions. At the conclusion of the trial the Superior Court judge will decide whether or not there is a landlord-tenant relationship between the two parties or a buyer-seller relationship. If the judge determines that there is a landlord-tenant relationship then he or she will enter judgment in favor of the landlord. However, if the judge finds that there is a buyer-seller relationship then he or she will dismiss the eviction lawsuit at which point the party seeking the eviction is free to file a quiet title action to settle the dispute of ownership.

Landlord Frustration. Often, when an eviction case is transferred from the Justice Court to the Superior Court, a landlord will respond, “But my tenant doesn’t own the property! It’s mine! They’re just lying! Why does the judge believe them?”

The frustration is understandable, but it is important to remember that the Justice Court Judge is just following the law, it does not mean that he or she necessarily believes the tenant. So, it should not be interpreted as a sign that the landlord did something wrong or the tenant made some brilliant legal maneuver. It simply means the Justice Court Judge is following the law.

If you need help from an experienced eviction attorney, then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-702-1608 or message us HERE.

* The information provided is informational only, does not constitute legal advice, and will not create an attorney-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Additionally, the Dunaway Law Group, PLC limits its practice to the states of Arizona and New York.

48 Hour Notice to Enter

A 48 hour notice must be given to Arizona tenants before their landlord can legally enter the rental property. Arizona landlords have the right to periodically enter their rental properties, however, the Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act states that entering the property is a right with limitations. In particular, landlords should not use the 48 hour notice as a way to harass or intimidate tenants.

Proper Notice to Arizona Tenant

A.R.S. § 33-1343(D) states that, “the landlord shall give the tenant at least two days’ notice of the landlord’s intent to enter and enter only at reasonable times.” Although the law does not specify that the notice must be written (as opposed to verbal), it is a good idea to post written notice of intent to enter, or send via mail, so that you as a landlord have proof that you followed the proper procedure.

See A.R.S. § 33-1343(D)

A.R.S. § 33-1343(A) states in part that “the tenant shall not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter into the dwelling unit in order to inspect the premises, make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements…” or show the property to potential buyers. If the tenant won’t allow you to enter the property, it is grounds for eviction.

See A.R.S. § 33-1343(A)

Emergency access to rental property

Per, A.R.S. § 33-1343(C) an Arizona landlord may enter the rental property without delivering a 48 hour notice in the case of emergency. For example, if there is smoke billowing from the windows or water is pouring out from under the doors, an Arizona landlord does not have to provide a 48 hour notice before entering.

Landlord Harassment

Arizona landlords cannot use ability to enter the property as a way of harassing or intimidating a tenant. According to A.R.S. § 33-1343(D) “the landlord shall not abuse the right to access or use it to harass the tenant.” One of the most common defenses a tenant brings up in court is that their landlord was harassing them. Avoid anything that even resembles harassment so your tenant can’t use that as a defense if you end up having to evict them.

tenants’ rights to wrongful access

Arizona law requires that landlords give tenants at least a 48 hour notice prior to entering the property. However, what options do tenants have if their landlord just enters the rental property without proper notice? The Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act addresses this exact issue. A.R.S. § 33-1376(B) states:

“If the landlord makes an unlawful entry or a lawful entry in an unreasonable manner or makes repeated demands for entry otherwise lawful but which have the effect of unreasonably harassing the tenant, the tenant may obtain injunctive relief to prevent the recurrence of the conduct or terminate the rental agreement. In either case, the tenant may recover actual damages not less than an amount equal to one month’s rent.”

So this statute provides an Arizona tenant with two different options if the landlord enters the property without permission or is constantly demanding to enter the rental property to the point that it becomes a form of harassment.

Two Options Available to Arizona Tenants

  1. Obtain Injunctive Relief– This is a fancy way of saying the Arizona tenant must obtain an Injunction Against Harassment or Restraining Order against the landlord. With either of these tools you will have the backing of the court to stop the harassment. 
  2. Terminate the Rental Agreement– Regardless of how much or how little time is left on your lease, if your Arizona landlord has repeatedly entered the rental property without giving you a 48 hour notice then a tenant may have the right to cancel the lease. 

Monetary Damages Against Trespassing Landlord

The second part of A.R.S. § 33-1376(B) requires an Arizona landlord to pay the tenant a “fine” equal to one month’s rent for trespassing without a 48 hour notice. So for example, if rent is $1,500 per month then a court could require the Arizona landlord pay $1,500 to the tenant.

However, in order to recover the one months rent from the landlord a tenant must elect one of the two options from above. Meaning, the tenant must either obtain an Injunction Against Harassment / Restraining Order or actually terminate the lease agreement. An Arizona tenant cannot say, “well, the landlord entered my property without giving me a 48 hour notice and so now I want my money.”

Conclusion

Arizona landlords, give your tenants 48 hour notice before entering the rental property and tenants, do not unreasonably deny your landlord access to their rental property!

If you are an Arizona landlord and have questions about 48 hour notices then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-702-1608 or message us HERE.

* These blog posts are not intended, nor shall they be deemed to render legal advice. Reading these blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor shall it impose an obligation on the part of the law firm to respond to further inquiry. The Dunaway Law Group limits its practice to the states of Arizona and New York.

Rent Striking in Arizona

Arizona does not permit “rent-striking”. Meaning, a tenant cannot legally withhold rent except in a very few exception.

Arizona does not permit “rent-striking” by tenants. Meaning, a tenant cannot legally withhold rent from a landlord except in a very few exceptions.

A.R.S. 33-1363(A) and (B) of the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act specifically address what a tenant must do prior to withholding rent from the landlord.

Section 33-1363(A) states in part: A tenant “may notify the landlord of the tenant’s intention to correct the condition at the landlord’s expense. After being notified by the tenant in writing, if the landlord fails to comply within ten days or as promptly thereafter as conditions require in case of emergency, the tenant may cause the work to be done by a licensed contractor and after submitting to the landlord an itemized statement and a waiver of lien, deduct from his rent the actual and reasonable cost of the work, not exceeding”…an amount less than three hundred dollars, or an amount equal to one-half of the monthly rent, whichever amount is greater.

A.R.S. 33-1363(A)

Additionally Section 33-1363(B) states in part;

“A tenant may not repair at the landlord’s expense if…the condition repaired does not constitute a breach of the fit and habitable condition of the premises.”

A.R.S. 33-1363(B)

before a tenant withhold rent they must:

  1. Write the landlord and notify him of their intention to correct the condition at the landlord’s expense;
  2. The tenant must give the landlord ten days to fix the problems outlined in the written notice;
  3. Give the landlord ten days to fix the problem before seeking any self-help solutions;
  4. Have the repairs completed by a licensed contractor;
  5. Submit the landlord with an itemized statement;
  6. Provide the landlord a waiver of lien;
  7. Deduct from their rent the actual and reasonable cost of the work;
  8. Not to exceed $300 (three hundred dollars), or half of the month rent, whichever is greater; and
  9. The repairs must constitute a breach of the fit and habitable condition of the premises.

If you are a landlord and have questions about tenants withhold rent then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-702-1608 or message us HERE.

The Dunaway Law Group provides this information as a service to clients and other friends for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. The law changes quickly and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As such, readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers. Additionally, this Firm limits its practice to the states of Arizona and New York.