Tenancy Laws and Rights for the Citizens of Arizona

It is imperative that a person understands the laws and implications with regard to tenancy. This post highlights the laws pertaining to the rights of a tenant in the state of Arizona and how he/she can deal with a landlord, the court of law and other matters.

Legal Communication

All communication between the landlord and the tenant must be documented. A tenant has the right to ask the landlord for written communication in every instance. No verbal communication without documentation should be entertained.

Should a conversation be unavoidable, as a tenant, it is your duty to record the points discussed. A letter from the tenant to his/her landlord memorializing the points discussed in the conversation should follow. The letter must be signed by the tenant and the original copy certified by the Arizona Tenants Advocates & Association then mailed to the landlord. This provides the tenant with documented evidence should the matter need to be taken to the court of law.

The court of law requires a tenant to send letters/mail that is certified by the Arizona Tenants Advocates & Association. The reason for this is that such certified mails are deemed received five days from the day of mailing.

When it comes to delivering the letter, avoid hand delivery as this could possibly end as a dispute between the landlord and the tenant. If hand delivery is required, the Arizona Tenants Advocates & Association (ATA) requires the tenant to obtain and fill out a form before doing so.

In the event of mail being returned by the landlord, then the tenant should not open it. This should be left for the judge who is presiding over the case to do. Opening of such letters/mail by the tenant will diminish the proof of having sent such notices.  If the landlord responds to the mail, then the tenant should consult with the ATA regarding the course of action to be taken.

Finance Related Matter – Rent / Security Deposit

  1. Payment of Rent

Check Payments

The Memo line in the check should specify which month the rent is being paid.

The tenant has the right to ask for a receipt for rent payments. If a landlord refuses to provide a rent receipt, the tenant should send a mail certified by the ATA with a request for the same. This should be accompanied by a Cover Letter prepared by the ATA. Tenants can also use the model letters prepared by the ATA.

Payment Method

Personal checks are considered to be the best mode of payment. Tenants can also use Bank and Cashier Check payment facility to pay rent. This option allows for the tracing and stopping of payments. However, payments can only be stopped in the event of the check being damaged, lost or stolen.

Cash payments are not encouraged. The same goes for payments made by Money Orders. However, if the landlord desires the rent to be paid using a Money Order, he/she must send a letter to the tenant. The letter must be signed and dated by the landlord.

Payment of rent by cash is discouraged as there is no documentation to support it and the landlord is liable to charge a tenant for non-payment. This can lead to the eviction of the tenant. Moreover, a Court of Law does not accept money orders as sufficient evidence.

Increase or Decrease of Rent

The landlord cannot make any change to the rent amount without prior notice being provided to the tenant.

If the rental lease is from month to month, then the landlord needs to provide a written notice 30 days prior to the change.

If the rental lease is from week to week, a notice in writing 10 days prior to the change is needed.

For a yearlong contract, no changes in rent are permitted until the end of the lease period.

If there is no notice provided, then no changes can be affected.

  1. Security Deposit

The landlord must be clear whether a security and cleaning deposit is needed or not. If needed, the landlord must specify the amount and whether it is refundable at the time of the move out or not. The rental lease must mention all non-refundable deposits.

The Security Deposit amount cannot be more than one and one half times the monthly rental charge.

The landlord cannot make changes to the amount after the rental agreement has been signed by the tenant.

During a move out, the tenant can ask for his/her security amount to be refunded. However, the landlord has the right to make adjustments in the event of unpaid rent up to the amount of the unpaid rent.

How to apply for a Security Deposit?

  1. The tenant must obtain Form ‘M’ from the Superior Court.
  2. A written request must be submitted to the landlord. This must contain an address to where the landlord can send the money.
  3. Upon receiving the request, the landlord has 14 days to respond (Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays are excluded). If the request is sent by mail, the tenant needs to give the landlord an additional 5 days.
  4. If the landlord has made deductions, he or she must send a written list of the same to the tenant and return the remaining amount.
  5. The tenant has the right to take legal action if the landlord doesn’t reply to his/her request for a refund or if there is a dispute over the deductions.

Access to Premises

Under no circumstance should the landlord/ property agent be allowed on to the premises without proper notice. If access is required, the landlord must provide the tenant with 48 hours’ notice. However, exceptions can be made in the event of an emergency.

If a landlord forces entry without proper notice, then the tenant should contact local police. To prevent this from happening in the future, the tenant can seek an injunction relief by filling out Form ‘I’ available at Superior Court.

In the case of the tenant filing a complaint for negligence on the part of the landlord with respect to repairs in the premises, the tenant should only allow the landlord access to the premise after proper notice is provided. The landlord is required to mention the date and time for such access. However, if the tenant is unavailable on the date and time mentioned, he/she should immediately communicate this to the landlord.

What should a tenant keep in mind when choosing a home?

The home should meet the needs of the tenant and the rent should be afforded by him/her. Failure to pay the rent will result in the tenant being evicted by the landlord.

  1. The tenant should take time to go over the rules and regulations of the premise. He/she should check the following points – whether the landlord allows pets in the premise, parking facilities, overnight stay of guests and other rental community rules. Following these rules is imperative.
  2. The landlord and tenant must be clear about who is responsible for payments related to utilities like gas, electricity and water. If the landlord is responsible, the same must be mentioned in the rental lease and as to how it is being calculated. If the tenant is responsible, the charges must be specific to his/her usage (in the case of multiple tenants).
  3. A landlord cannot refuse to rent out the property or discriminate among tenants based on race, religion, color, gender, national origin, or family status. If a tenant feels that he/she has been victimized, he/she can contact the local City Attorney’s Office, the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office or the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  4. A landlord cannot refuse to rent a property if the tenant has children unless it is specifically mentioned in the Arizona Revised Statutes (41-1491.04.) that it is exclusively for the elderly.
  5. The tenancy laws and rules are same for all and cannot be amended by individual landlords.

Signing a Lease

Before signing the lease, a tenant must ensure that it contains the following;

  1. The name, address and phone number of the property owner and manager.
  2. The location and unit number of the premise rented.
  3. The rent amount and the date it is to be paid.
  4. Who is responsible for the payments related to the use of utilities (water, gas and electricity).
  5. The amount being charged as a security / cleaning / redecoration deposit and whether it is refundable at the time of move out.
  6. The tenure or length of the lease.
  7. Rules and regulations pertaining to the tenancy.
  8. The names of the people staying in the rented premises.

When a lease is signed, the tenant is responsible for the payment of the rent even in the case of an early move out (before the lease expires) or until a new tenant signs an agreement for the same.

If the information presented in the lease is not truthful, then the tenant can break it without consequence.

Agreements

For rental leases for a period of more than one year, a written agreement is necessary.

Oral agreements can only be provided in the case of week to week and month to month leases.

Moving in and Moving Out

Moving In

The tenant is required to conduct a walk-through of the premises prior to signing the lease and moving. This walk should be conducted in the presence of the landlord or property manager.

During the walk-through, the tenant must make a note of any damage to the property using a checklist provided by the landlord. The check list must be signed by the landlord and a copy provided to the tenant. It is essential that records are kept and thus the tenant must retain a copy of the lease and checklist.

If the premises need repairs, the tenant must notify the landlord.

Moving Out or Ending of Lease

The issue of renewal of lease is a matter that requires consent of both parties (landlord and tenant).

Move out scenarios:

  1. Month to Month lease – either party has to give a written notice 30 days prior to the move out date.
  2. Week to Week lease – either party has to give a written notice 10 days prior to the move out date. If the notice given is less than 10 days from the next week, the lease will not end until the end of the following week.
  3. Yearly lease – usually a written notice 30 days prior to the end of the lease is sent.

What a tenant needs to know about a move out?

The Final Walk Through

After the move out, before handing over the keys of the premises to the landlord, the tenant should inspect the house for the last time to look for any damage caused to the property that will result in deductions being made to the security deposit.

Move out policy

  1. When moving out, the tenant must ensure that he house is in same condition as it was while moving in.
  2. The tenant should personally hand over the keys of the premises to the landlord and ask for a receipt mentioning the handover. If the tenant needs to mail the keys over, he/she must have it certified by ATA and send it in a padded envelope.
  3. The tenant can then submit a request for a refund of the security deposit and provide the landlord with an address to have it sent over. To know how to apply for a security deposit, please check the corresponding point under finance/security deposit.

Tenancy Rights

The landlord must ensure the following;

  1. That the rented premises meets all local building safety and health codes.
  2. That necessary repairs will be made to the premises, when needed.
  3. That all facilities and utilities provided along with the premises are in working condition.
  4. That the supply of running water, heating and other utilities is provided and paid for, lest it is being taken care of by the tenant.
  5. That the provision of trash cans for proper disposal of garbage is made.

If at all the landlord fails to meet these rights or violates the same, the tenant can seek the help of the court of law.

Serving of Notices/ Landlord and Tenant Retaliation/ Legal Action

Serving of Notices

  1. Landlords must send written notice to effect changes in rent in the case of weekly and monthly rental agreements. This has been discussed under the topic of RENT.
  2. In the case of the rent not being paid, the landlord can serve the tenant a notice requiring the latter to pay the rent along with a late fee. The lease is liable to be terminated if the rent is not paid within 5 days of the notice being received by the tenant.
  3. If the tenant is responsible for breaking any tenancy or community rules, he/she will be served a notice to correct his/her behavior within 10 days. Failure to comply with this notice will affect tenant eviction.
  4. If the tenant has committed a crime in the premises or community, or if he/she poses a threat to the safety of other tenants, then the landlord can send a 24-hour notice for ‘Immediate and Irreparable Material Breach.’ This means that the behavior of the tenant cannot be corrected and that he/she must move out of the property within 24 hours of receiving the notice. If this notice goes unattended, the tenant is liable to be evicted from the premises.

Instances of Landlord Retaliation to complaints

  1. Tenants are given the right to decent and fair housing. If he/she makes a complaint to the landlord, or to a Government Agency or joins some Tenant Association, then the landlord cannot retaliate.
  2. However, when it comes to non-payment of rent, the landlord can take action.
  3. If the tenant is responsible for the poor condition of the house, the landlord can take action.
  4. The right to renew a lease lies with the landlord and he/she is not liable to give an answer to the tenant in the event of non-renewal.

Instances of violation of law by landlords

  1. The landlord cannot lock out a tenant without a court order. Nor can he/she withhold the personal belongings of the tenant. In such instances the tenant can seek the assistance of local police.
  2. The landlord cannot shut off essential facilities and utilities even in the case of the tenant being behind on his/her rent. If the landlord happens to do this, the tenant is ought to notify him/him about violating the Arizona tenancy law. In the event of an unlawful lockout, the tenant can fill Form ‘H’ for invalid late charges, Form ‘F’ is to be used in the case of cutting off of the supply of utilities and Form ‘E’ is to be used by the tenant for the waiver of lien.
  3. Tenants can sue their landlords for an amount equal to two months of rent or the charges for actual damage caused, whichever is greater.

Legal Action

A tenant can file a complaint at the court in the following instances;

  1. If the landlord ignores notices to fix problems in the premises.
  2. If the landlord violates tenancy rights. The tenant can sue the landlord in this case (already discussed).
  3. If the landlord refuses to return the security deposit amount even after the tenant has served proper notice and moved out of the premise.
  4. If there are disputes over deductions made to the security deposit.

Tenants need to keep in mind that complaints must be filed at the court of law within one year of the date of violation of rights.

Choosing a Court

How does a tenant go about addressing the disputes and choosing a court to take action?

When it comes to filing of complaints this is what a tenant is supposed to do:

For filing a complaint that seeks redressal of damages exceeding $10,000.00 or for seeking a court injunction, tenants must file at the Superior Court.

The tenant is required to obtain forms from the Superior Court Library and file at the court’s Civil Complaints Window. Once he/she pays for process server, the landlord will be served a summons.

For filing a complaint that seeks redressal of damages less than $10,000.00 tenants must file at the Local Justice Court.

No injunctions can be filed here and the tenant is required to contact the local county court.

For filing a complaint that seeks redressal of damages less than $2,500.00, tenants must file at the Small Claims Division of Local Justice Court.

There is certain limitations here. Neither party (landlord or tenant) can use an attorney or appeal the decision of the court.  However, the landlord may request the case to be transferred to a Justice Court.

Written Complaints

Injunctions are written orders from the court to the landlord. It can be of two types –

To do something – landlord asked to make repairs to the premises.

Not to do something – not to enter the premises.

Injunctions can only be issued by the Superior Court.

Damage Claim by Tenants

A tenant can file for damages under the following circumstances;

  1. When he/she has to pay for the cost of staying at hotels when the rented promise is not suitable to inhabiting.
  2. When damage is caused to personal belongings.
  3. For the time period when the tenant had to go without the use of the premises facilities and utilities which leads to a decreased value of the property.

Eviction

Non Payment of Rent

  1. The landlord can file for the eviction of a tenant if he/she fails to pay the rent. The landlord can serve the tenant a notice asking him/her to pay the rent along with a late fee. The lease is liable to be terminated if the rent is not paid within 5 days of the notice being received by the tenant. However, the tenant can reinstate the rental agreement if he/she pays the due rent along with the late fee within 5 days of receiving the notice. (A late fee can only be charged if it is mentioned in the lease).
  2. If there is no settlement between the two parties and the rent remains unpaid, then the landlord can file for an eviction of the tenant. If reinstatement is required at this, the tenant will have to clear the due rent, the late fee and as well as the court charges. In this scenario, the tenant must get the payment and reinstatement receipts and carry the same when attending to the court.
  3. If the tenant loses the case, he/she will have to move out and the landlord need not consider reinstatement even if the entire amount is cleared. If the two parties reach a settlement, a new lease ought to be signed or the reinstatement must be given in writing by the landlord.
  4. Other instances of eviction include an immediate move out. The court allows the tenant 3-5 days to clear the property from the day judgement is passed.
  5. A tenant may be asked to vacate the premises within 12-24 hours from the passing of judgement if he/she is found to be a threat to the rental community.
  6. After having lost a case, the tenant is required to move out from the property. However, if he/she does not, the landlord can obtain a Writ of Restitution to have the local sheriff change the locks of the premises.
  7. If the tenant has left his/her personal belongings at the premises after the eviction, the landlord must store it for 21 days and notify the tenant of its location. The landlord must also send an itemized list to the tenant.

Reclaiming Property

  1. Clothing, medical care, financial and identification documents, books and tools of trade can be taken immediately.
  2. The rest will be stored by the landlord and he/she may charge storage fees. The tenant must then contact the landlord to fix a date and time to remove his/her belongings. If the tenant fails to contact the landlord 21 days after the court has passed its judgement, the landlord can dispose of or sell the belongings of the tenant and keep the proceedings.

Filing of Appeals

A Notice of Appeal can be filed by the tenant within 5 days from the date of original judgement passed by the court. The tenant then has 60 days to explain why he/she feels the original decision was wrong.

The landlord is then given 30 days to respond to this in writing.

Post the filing of the Appeal, the court will decide on a date for the hearing and passing off a judgment on the issue.

Having spent time reading through this post, you as a prospective tenant will be better equipped to deal with issues that could crop up along the way. Knowing how to go about the proceedings related to tenancy in the state of Arizona will prevent you from being ‘taken for a ride’ by misleading landlords and property owners.

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