As attorneys, our job is not just to represent our clients in court, but also to stay on top of changes in the law. We see many people who represent themselves get in trouble because they are not aware of these changes. For a while, we have said that we expect more changes to occur in the area of evictions. Those changes have started. In August, the Arizona Supreme Court passed a new court rule requiring that for every eviction a landlord files, the landlord must attach the lease and related addendum, as well as a six-month ledger. These documents must be served to every resident with the Summons and Complaint. The rule will become effective on January 1, 2020.
Imagine the following case…your resident is arrested in the property for selling drugs out of the property. You file an immediate eviction to obtain possession because your tenant violated your Crime Free Addendum. You file the case yourself and go to court, only to have your case dismissed because you failed to attach the lease. Your resident is still in jail but the judge elects to dismiss your case because you failed to attach a lease. Alternatively imagine the same case, but your case was dismissed because you failed to notify the judge that the tenant was a Section 8 tenant. Both of these are changes that have occurred in the last year and it’s important to stay current on the law or to have an attorney handle your legal matters.
Rule changes can occur by any interested party submitting a proposed rule to the Supreme Court. At that time, the rule is open for public comment and any interested party can submit their opinion of the proposal. We at WZP Legal regularly provide our insight into such proposals when they affect areas of the law in which we practice. We believe that this is a critical part of representing our clients. In the past several years, tenant advocate groups have proposed various rules to change evictions and make them harder for landlords. While we are more than happy to review and support rule proposals that are equally applied and serve the benefit of the public, we do not support rules that create needless hurdles. As such, we opposed the most recent rule proposal.
This new rule requires leases and ledgers to be served with the Complaint, the proponents of the change alleged that it is necessary because they allege some residents do not have such documents and are unprepared to defend against an eviction. We believe this claim is without support as all residents have a right to get a copy of their lease when they sign it and we believe that they have a statutory basis to ask for it during the term of the lease. Further, if an eviction is filed, a defendant has a right to request these documents at the initial hearing. In other words, if a person believes they have a defense that is predicated on their lease or ledger, and their landlord won’t give them a copy, they can appear at court and get this documentation. (Side note – I would not want to be the attorney in front of a judge trying to argue why a landlord refused to provide this documentation to the tenant).
Also, it is important to remember that in the vast majority of eviction cases, the residents fail to appear; thus, the rule will require printing, filing and service of countless additional documents, but it will only affect a small portion of tenants who actually appear in court and of those, only a small portion dispute the claims. In other words, the cost of evictions is going to increase significantly, but the potential benefit is extremely limited. Additionally, landlords will have additional liability because they need to make sure they redact any private information of the resident. For example, a landlord could be sued if they filed an eviction and had the tenant’s social security number in the lease.
For AZREIA members, the short summary is – be careful, stay aware of the law or get an attorney who knows this area. While this may be an obvious pitch for services, this is also a warning to landlords who do things the way they always have and think that will always work.
By Mark B. Zinman, Zona Law Group