By Catherine Reagor| March 27th, 2020
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Arizona renters and landlords are both struggling to find out what a new executive order to delay evictions due to the coronavirus means for them.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued a 120-day order on Tuesday delaying the enforcement of evictions for renters impacted by COVID-19 because they are sick, can’t work or lost jobs.

Arizona joined more than 50 others states and cities to place a temporary halt on evictions during the public health and economic crisis.

About 2,500 metro Phoenix renters are facing eviction hearings, according to court records. That's up by 500 from last week.

'The right thing to do'

Ducey called the order “the right thing to do to support Arizona families during their time of need and prevent the spread of COVID-19."

Now, housing advocates and lawyers are working overtime to figure out how the order will work.

“We need to focus on educating tenants concerning this defense to stop the enforcement of the eviction action,” said Pamela Bridge, director of Advocacy and Litigation at Community Legal Services.

Who eviction delays help

  • A renter required to be quarantined because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A tenant ordered by a licensed medical professional to self-quarantine based on symptoms defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A renter required to be quarantined because someone in their home has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A renter demonstrating a health condition that puts them at risk for coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A tenant suffering a substantial loss of income resulting from COVID-19 due to any of the following reasons: job loss, reduction in compensation, closure of place of employment or a need to be absent from work to care for a home-bound school-age child.

Tenants must contact landlords

A tenant eligible for eviction reprieve must contact their landlord in writing and include documentation to support their cause, according to the order.

Community Legal Services has already created tenant COVID-19 notice documents in English and Spanish for renters hurt by the virus to fill out for their landlords.

Evictions move fast in metro Phoenix. A tenant can fall behind on rent and be evicted through a court hearing within three weeks. And not all tenants facing evictions in Arizona now will qualify for Ducey's reprieve.

How eviction delays will work

Maricopa County has 26 justice of the peace courts that handle evictions. But the governor doesn’t have jurisdiction over the courts.

“A constable or other law enforcement officer is the one who will effect the (eviction) delay, not the court," said Scott Davis, spokesman for the Maricopa Justice Court, about Ducey’s executive order.

Maricopa County courts have been working on plans with justices of the peace to delay eviction hearings for the past few weeks. As of late Monday, more than half of the justices had agreed to automatic delays on evictions.

Davis said the justices are now working on plans for how to handle eviction delays from Ducey's order.

Unhappy landlords

I have heard from many renters anxious about evictions during the past two weeks, and also several worried rental property owners.

“I am beside myself with the decision by the governor to allow tenants free rent,” said Frank Russo, associate broker with REMAX of Glendale. “So now I can't make my mortgage payments and will lose the rental to foreclosure and have no cash flow to make my own residence payment.”

The federal government announced a plan Monday to help landlords who don't evict tenants due to the health and economic crisis. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will give owners of multifamily apartments a reprieve on their mortgage payments if they have renters who can't afford their monthly payments due to the pandemic.

But that won’t help landlords who don’t have loans backed by one those federal mortgage giants.

“We support taking immediate action to protect and support struggling residents during the COVID-19 crisis, but we also want to offer a note of caution here, said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, chief executive of Arizona Multihousing Association. “At the same time as many apartment residents are struggling with income loss, Arizona property owners are working hard to meet their monthly obligations."

She said the apartment group will continue to work with Ducey, state and federal leaders to find a solution that “balances relief for renters with relief for property owners.”

6 tips for renters facing eviction

Community Legal Services aims to help renters who are eligible for Arizona eviction delays due to the coronavirus crisis. The group suggests:

  • Renters should ask their medical professional for documentation if they have COVID-19 or are quarantined because others in their home have the virus or symptoms.
  • Tenants who have lost income may want income notices from their employer or pay stubs.
  • Renters who don't have supporting documents should write a statement explaining how they meet conditions of the order.
  • Tenants should mail it or hand-deliver the notice and documentation to their landlord, and keep a record of the date it was submitted.
  • Keep several copies of the form and documents given to a  landlord or property manager.
  • Submit the notice and paperwork at the first sign of eviction.

A landlord can can still go to court and get an eviction judgment against a renter, but providing these documents to your landlord/manager keeps the constable or sheriff from locking them out of their home, Bridges said.

Renters facing eviction have until a constable or sheriff locks them out to provide their landlord with their tenant COVID-19 notice and supporting documents.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

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