CDC Bans (Some) Evictions

On September 1, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released an Order titled “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19” (the “Order”).  The Order is effective Friday, September 4, 2020, and expires December 31, 2020. 

ORDER APPLIES TO ALL 50 STATES

This Order applies to all states without an existing eviction moratorium providing “the same or greater level of public-health protection” than the Order’s requirements. The Order will apply in Arizona because the Order provides greater protection than Governor Ducey’s Executive Order halting the execution of writs of restitution.

Based on the Order’s language, I believe a landlord can still serve a 5-day non-payment of rent notice and even file an eviction action for non-payment in court, but if the tenant presents the landlord with the declaration, the writ of restitution could not be executed and the tenant could not be removed from the property. Unfortunately, however, we do not know this for sure.  

It is possible the Order was intended to prohibit even the filing of an eviction action, this is a question that will likely need clarification from the Arizona Supreme Court.

ORDER IS limited TO EVICTIONS FOR NON-PAYMENT

The Order only applies to cases involving non-payment of rent.  It does not prohibit evictions based on criminal activity; threats to health and safety of others; damaging or posing an “immediate and significant” risk of damage to property; violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or violating other contractual obligations. I believe, based on the Order’s language, that non-renewals will still be permissible—although this is just an initial opinion.

TENANT’S DECLARATION OF PROTECTION

To invoke the Order’s protection, the tenant must provide their landlord with an executed declaration stating that:

  1. The tenant has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing; 
  2. The tenant either: (i) expects to earn not more than $99,000.00 in annual income in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing jointly); (ii) was not required to report any income to the IRS in 2019; or (iii) received a stimulus check pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act; 
  3. The tenant is unable to pay the full rent because of substantial income loss, loss of compensable work hours or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses; 
  4. The tenant is using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as their circumstances permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and 
  5. An eviction would likely render the tenant homeless or force them to move into close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting because the individual has no other housing options. 

Note, landlords do not get to verify the information in the affidavit, the tenant is protected by simply signing the declaration and delivering it to the landlord! Additionally, this Order applies to ALL types of residential rental properties: houses, buildings, mobile homes, land in a mobile home park, or similar dwellings leased for residential purposes.

SEVERE PUNISHMENT FOR LANDLORDS WHO VIOLATE THE ORDER

The Order states that the U.S. Department of Justice may initiate court proceedings against landlords for violations. Penalties for violating the Order are extreme; they are both criminal and financial. For individual landlords: If the violation does not result in a death, the penalty is a fine of not more than $100,000 or one year in jail, or both; If the violation results in a death, the penalty is a fine of not more than $250,000 or one year in jail, or both; 

SUMMARY

For now, it appears we can proceed with eviction filings. However, if a resident provides a signed declaration or attestation—that even closely resembles what is required in the Order—immediately stop all eviction action.

If you are an Arizona landlord and have questions about how the CDC’s new Order applies to your rental properties then contact the landlord – tenant attorneys at the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or message us HERE.

Arizona Eviction Process

Steps to an Eviction in Arizona

  1. Notice to Tenant
    • Written notice must be sent to the tenant at the begin of each eviction.
    • Timing of the Notice to the Arizona tenant.
  2. Filing the Eviction Lawsuit
  3. Eviction Hearing
    • Every eviction case has an in-person hearing. We appear at the hearing on your behalf so you do not have to take time out of your schedule to come to the justice court, courthouse. The property owner does not have to attend the hearing and rarely do.
    • Eviction Trial– Occasionally, an eviction case will be set for trial. An eviction trial is completely different than an eviction hearing.
  4. Eviction Judgment
    • An Eviction Judgment is the goal of the eviction hearing. The Eviction Judgment is made up of two basic components.
      • 1) Monetary award- This portion of the judgment orders the tenant to pay the landlord all back rent, late fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
      • 2) Vacate the Property- The second part of the eviction judgment orders the tenants to vacate the rental property within 5 calendar days. If the Arizona tenants do not voluntarily vacate within that time then we must file a Writ of Restitution. This orders a constable to go to the rental property and remove the renters, by force if necessary.
  5. Writ of Restitution
    • A Writ of Restitution is filed with the Court if the tenant fails to vacate the rental property within 5 calendar days of us obtaining the eviction judgment.
      • The Writ of Restitution is filed with the clerk of court and requires an additional filing fee. As of 2020 the filing fee for the Writ of Restitution in the justice court system is $115.
    • Tenant’s Belongings– If a tenant vacates your rental property but leaves behind their belongings then you must store their belongings for 14-days.
      • An Arizona landlord can charge a tenant the actual cost of moving their belongings and the actual cost of storing their belongings. However, a landlord cannot withhold a tenant’s belongings until they pay the judgment.

Gov. Ducey: Some Evictions

Governor Ducey Extends COVID-19 Eviction Protection until October 31, 2020

Governor Doug Ducey today signed an Executive Order extending a moratorium on residential evictions–for non-payment of rent–until October 31, 2020, providing continued protections for renters who are facing economic hardship as a result of COVID-19. The order ensures renters impacted by COVID-19 will be able to stay in their homes while extending the time to access rental assistance programs.

not granted to all arizona tenants

Governor Ducey’s executive order protects Arizona tenants from eviction if they have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. For example, they’ve been laid-off, had their hours reduced, actually had COVID-19 or someone else in the house has. The executive order comes into play after the entire eviction process is complete and a writ of restitution is filed to remove the tenants. If the constable goes to the property to remove the tenants but decides that they are protected under the Governor’s exemption.

motion to compel enforcement

If the constable won’t remove the tenants from your property then we have to file a Motion to Compel. With this motion we are asking the judge to order the tenants removed. A special hearing will be set. At this hearing, tenants can provide evidence and testimony showing that they fall under Ducey’s exemption and they should stay in the house. We will then be given the opportunity to explain why they are not exempted and should be removed. If the judge rules in our favor the constable will remove the tenants. However, if the judge rules in their favor they can’t be removed until the executive order expires, October 31, 2020

If you are wondering how Governor Ducey’s Executive Order is impacting your landlord – tenant situation then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or message us HERE.

*** VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: THIS WAS SUPERCEDED BY THE CDC’S STAY ON EVICTION***

Evictions and Ownership Disputes

Arizona law is clear that eviction cases are designed to address the issue of possession and not the issue of property ownership. The limited scope of a forcible entry and detainer action has been strictly defined by Arizona statute. A.R.S. § 12-1177(A) states in relevant part:

On the trial of an action of Forcible Entry or Forcible Detainer, the only issue shall be the right of actual possession and the merits of title shall not be inquired into.

A.R.S. 12-1177(A)

Evidence offered to the Arizona Superior Court showing anything other than who is entitled to possess the property will be excluded from an eviction hearing. This means a defendant who wants to make a claim for ownership of the rental property must file a quiet title action and not raise the issue during an eviction hearing.

Proof of property Ownership 

The Arizona Superior Court’s inquiry into property ownership is limited to the extent that Plaintiff holds title to the property in dispute. If the Plaintiff – Arizona Landlord’s name appears on the trustee’s deed then the Court should not inquire into ownership any further.

The issuance of the Trustee’s Deed to Plaintiff is conclusive evidence that all statutory requirements for the Trustee’s Sale were satisfied and that Plaintiff has the right to possession of the Property.

A.R.S. § 33-811(B) further provides:

…the Trustee’s deed shall raise the presumption of compliance with the requirements of this chapter relating to the exercise of the power of sale and the sale of the trust property, including recording, mailing, publishing, and posting of the notice of sale and the conduct of the sale.

eviction cases are summary remedies

Arizona courts have held that litigation as to the validity of title “would convert a forcible detainer action into a quiet title action and defeat its purpose as a summary remedy.” Curtis v. Morris, 186 Ariz. 534, 535, 925 P.2d 259, 260 (1996).

For example, in Merrifield v. Merrifield, 95 Ariz. 152, 154, 388 P.2d 153, 155 (1963), the plaintiff held title to property pursuant to quitclaim deed which was valid on its face. The lower court nonetheless inquired into the merits of that title and refused to find the defendant guilty of forcible entry and detainer. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling because plaintiff was entitled to possession as the title holder and pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-1177, the trial court was prohibited from considering the merits of the plaintiff’s title. Accordingly, any evidence offered by Defendants to raise extrinsic issues or disprove Plaintiff’s title must be excluded.

In another case demonstrating the Superior Courts inability to inquire into ownership in a forcible detainer (see Olds Bros. Lumber Co. v. Rushing, 64 Ariz. 199, 167 P.2d 394 (1946), the Arizona Supreme Court stated: “[T]he statutes of this state make that very plain and indicate quite clearly that the right to actual possession is the only issue to be determined in such an action.” Id. at 204, 397. The court also discussed the legislative intent in limiting the scope of a forcible entry and detainer action stating:

The object of a forcible entry and detainer action is to afford 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 defendant were permitted to deny his landlord’s title, or to interpose customary and usual defenses permissible in the ordinary action at law. And for the same reason, the merits of the title may not be inquired into in such an action, for if the merits of the title and other defenses above enumerated were permitted and the court heard testimony concerning them, then other and secondary issues would be presented to the court and the action would not afford a summary, speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of the premises.

Olds Bros. Lumber Co. v. Rushing, 64 Ariz. 199, 167 P.2d 394 (1946))

Id. at 204-05, 397. Because the trustee’s deed is conclusive evidence of Plaintiff’s title under A.R.S. § 33-811(B), and because the court is prohibited from inquiring into the merits of that title under A.R.S. § 12-1177(A), judgment must be rendered in favor of Plaintiff regardless of any defense of ownership the Defendants may raise.

Ownership Disputes in the Justice Court

The ownership of property and their interaction with evictions can become very complex. The above article discusses issues of ownership disputes and evictions in the Superior Court, however, the rules that apply to ownership disputes and evictions in the Justice Court (where most evictions take place) are completely different.

A.R.S. § 22-201(D) addresses this issue:

Justices of the peace 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)

A.R.S. § 22-201(F) adds further clarification:

In actions between landlord and tenant for possession of leased premises, the title to the property leased shall not be raised nor made an issue.

A.R.S. § 22-201(F)

Occasionally, when a case is sent to the Superior Court an Arizona landlord will respond, “but my tenant doesn’t own the property! It’s mine! They’re just lying! Why is the judge believing them? What could have been done to prevent this?”

While a landlords’ frustration is understandable it’s important to remember that the Justice Court judge is just following the law. Just because a Justice Court Judge moves a case into the Arizona Superior Court system does not mean they believe the tenant. Additionally, it does not mean that the tenant did something right or that we made some kind of a mistake. It simply means the Judge is following the law.

For help with your Arizona landlord – tenant matters contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or message us HERE.

Evicted Tenants’ Belongings

Often Arizona tenants will leave personal property on the premises after they have been evicted. As a landlord you cannot simply keep or throw away the former tenant’s belongings. The Arizona Landlord-Tenant Act requires the landlord to you maintain their possessions for at least 14 days.

Per A.R.S. § 33-1368(E) a landlord, must hold the evicted tenant’s possessions for a minimum of 14 days from the day the Writ of Restitution was executed (day the constable removed the tenants) issued. 

As the landlord, you may;

  • Keep the tenant’s belongings that the rental property for the 14 days,
  • Move the tenant’s belongings to an off-site storage facility,
  • Require the tenant to reimburse you for the actual cost of moving and storing their belongings during the 14 day period,
  • Prohibit the tenants from ever returning to the property without your explicit permission.

As a landlord you may NOT;

  • Require the tenant pay for eviction judgment prior to releasing the belongings to them. Meaning you cannot require a tenant pay you for all back rent, late fees, attorneys’ fees, and court costs prior to returning their belongings. Again, an Arizona landlord may only demand payment for the actual cost of storing and moving the tenants’ belongings.
  • Dispose of the tenant’s property prior to the expiration of the 14 days.  

catalogue their belongings

If you do choose to remove the tenant’s belongings from the rental property use considerable care, you will be responsible for any damage to their belongings. It is a good idea to photograph, or video the premises, so that you have an inventory of what was left behind. Make sure the date can be verified through the images and video. This will also give you the opportunity to catalog any damage to the rental unit itself. Take the inventory prior to moving any of the personal property from the rental unit.

After the 14 day period, if there has been no contact from the evicted party, and they have not claimed, or made and agreement to claim their property, a landlord may sell the items or dispose of the items that were left behind.

If you need help from an Arizona real estate attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or HERE.