Q: I recently had a tenant leave a property after not paying rent for two months.
I entered the property to begin fixing it up. What are my rights?
A: This happens a lot and raises a lot more issues than may be first recognized. First, it reinforces the importance of serving tenants nonpayment notices immediately upon rent being late. Even if you intend on working with the tenant, or if you have a grace period when late fees are not accruing, it is important that you get the “eviction clock” started to protect your rights once rent is late. While you can always file suit after a tenant has left to recover your damages, it is faster and cheaper to sue for nonpayment of rent while they are still in possession. Usually, this will result in a judgment for the back rent owed that you can attempt to collect on. If you collect on the judgment, then you can decide to pursue a second judgment for damages. See, A.R.S. § 33-1373. Another important issue that this raises is that a landlord can not re-enter a property unless: (1) the tenant gives you possession; (2) you obtain an eviction judgment and the constable or sheriff gives you possession pursuant to a writ of restitution; or (3) you completed the abandonment process as set forth in A.R.S. § 33-1370. In any other case, if you wrongfully enter and take possession, you could be liable for damages under the unlawful ouster statute, A.R.S. § 33-1367. Finally, any time that a tenant vacates, a landlord is required to send a security deposit accounting within 14 business days of demand by the tenant. See, A.R.S. § 33-1321. While this subject alone requires its own article, it’s important to remember to do this every time a tenant moves out, even if they owe you money and even if you do not have all of the final amounts due.
Information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. You should always contact an attorney for legal advice and not rely on information published here.