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 strictly defined by 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)

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?”

While a landlords’ frustration is understandable, it is important to remember that the Justice Court Judge is just following the law, it 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.

If you need help from an experienced Arizona 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 State of Arizona.

Arizona Eviction Process

Steps to Residential Evictions in Arizona

  1. Notice to Arizona Tenant(s)
    • In Arizona, a written notice must be sent to the tenant(s) before beginning a residential eviction.
      • 5-day Notice: for non-payment of rent.
      • 10-day Notice: for material breach of lease agreement.
      • 30-day Notice: to terminate month to month lease agreement.
    • Proper Mailing of Notices– Timing of the Notices to Arizona tenants.
  2. Filing the Eviction Lawsuit and Serving the Tenants
    • An eviction Complaint, Summons, 6-month payment history, lease, residential eviction explanation sheet and proposed form of judgment are prepared by our firm and filed with the corresponding court.
    • Once the pleadings have been filed with the court, they must be served on the tenants by a licensed process server.
  3. Eviction Hearing
    • Eviction Hearing-Every eviction case has an in-person/telephonic hearing. One of our attorneys will appear at the hearing on your behalf so you do not have to take time out of your schedule to come to one of the justice court, courthouse.
    • Eviction Trial– Occasionally, an eviction case will be set for trial. An eviction trial is completely different than an eviction hearing. Click HERE to read more about eviction trials.
  4. Eviction Judgment
    • An Eviction Judgment is the goal of an eviction hearing. An Arizona eviction judgment is made up of two basic components.
      • Monetary Award– The monetary portion of the judgment, orders the tenants to pay the landlord all back rent, late fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
      • 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 you must file a Writ of Restitution. This writ orders the court 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 Arizona rental property within 5 calendar days of us obtaining the eviction judgment.
      • Filing Fee- As of 2022 the filing fee for the Writ of Restitution in the Maricopa County justice court system is $115. Also, in cases where the rental property is rural and far from the court then the constable may charge an additional travel fee.
    • Tenant’s Belongings– If a tenant vacates but leaves behind their belongings then the landlord must store the tenant’s 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, the landlord cannot hold a tenant’s belongings hostage demanding that the eviction judgment is paid until the belongings will be released. Again, if an Arizona tenant reimburses the landlord for the actual cost of moving and storing the belongings then they must be returned.

If you have additional questions about the residential eviction process in Arizona then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or 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 State of Arizona.

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 that a defendant-tenant who claims 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.

* 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 State of Arizona.

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 A 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

  • Arizona landlords cannot require their former 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 the tenants’ belongings

You should itemize everything left behind by the tenants. 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 (take 100 – 200 pictures), and/or video the rental property so that you have an inventory of what was left behind. 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, an Arizona landlord may sell the items or dispose of the items that were left behind.

If you need help from an Arizona eviction attorney, then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or message us HERE.

These blog posts are not intended, nor shall they be deemed to be the rendering of legal advice. Reading these blog posts does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor shall it impose an obligation on the part of the attorney to respond to further inquiry. The Dunaway Law Group limits its practice to the State of Arizona.