In January, Arizona posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. According to some reports, the foreclosure rates were up over 36 percent in the last quarter of 2010. Just when it seemed things were improving, it appears, at least for a lot of people, it isn’t. So, where do all those people live after they lose their homes? They rent. For some of those folks, it is the first time in years they have rented and they have long forgot, or maybe they never knew, the rules of renting.
Renting an apartment or house (dwelling units) in Arizona is controlled by the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which can be found beginning at Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) section 33-1301. This act, which consists of 48 separate sections, has been passed by the Arizona Legislature to “simplify, clarify, modernize and revise the law governing the rental of dwelling units and the rights and obligations of landlord and tenant.” It is also designed to encourage landlords and tenants to maintain and improve the quality of housing.
The act does not apply when a person resides at a public or private institution and when residence is incidental to detention (county jail), the provision of medical, educational, counseling or religious services or the provision of a social service program. It also does not apply to occupancy of a dwelling unit under contract for sale or transient occupancy, such as a hotel, motel or recreational lodging. Finally, the act does not apply to the occupancy by an owner of a condominium unit or certain “public” housing.
When the provisions of the act are violated, then the non-violating party, landlord or tenant may recover appropriate damages. However, the non-violating party must mitigate, or take reasonable steps to reduce, any damage caused by the violation. The act imposes an obligation for the landlord and tenant to act in “good faith” when performing every duty identified in the act and it provides that if a court finds that the rental agreement or a settlement between the landlord and tenant contains “unconscionable” provisions, then that agreement or settlement or the unconscionable provisions may not be enforced.
After explaining these preliminary aspects of the relation between the landlord and tenant, the act then details what the landlord and tenants can and cannot do. It explains that in the absence of a rental agreement, the tenant shall pay rent as the fair rental value for the use and occupancy of the dwelling unit. Rent shall be payable without demand or notice at the time and place agreed to by the landlord or tenant. The act explains when and how the landlord can assess “sales tax” and utility charges to the tenant and it details what provisions are prohibited in the rental agreement.
The act describes the type of discrimination by the landlord that is not allowed. Specifically, it is unlawful for a landlord discriminate against a potential tenant by advertising – including placing signs or notices – a restriction against children or refusing to rent to a potential tenant because the potential tenant has a child or children.
The act then describes in detail the landlord’s and tenant’s obligations. It explains the landlord’s obligation with respect to security deposits and the disclosure of written rental agreements. The landlord must provide possession of the dwelling unit and maintain the unit in a clean, safe, fit and habitable condition in conformance with building codes. Likewise, the tenant has the obligation to keep that part of the premises occupied by the tenant safe and clean, keep all plumbing fixtures clean as their condition permits, use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances and to not destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or allow others to do so.
Finally, the act explains what both the landlord and tenant can do when the other has violated the act or the rental agreement. There are details that the landlord must comply with to notify the tenant of a breach of the agreement. Likewise, there are details that the tenant must comply with prior to using “self-help” to remedy a breach by the landlord and to notify the landlord of a breach of the agreement. It is important to remember that if the provisions of the act in this regard are not followed, then the “non-breaching” party – landlord or tenant – could then be subject to a claim they violated the act or are in breach of the rental agreement for not complying with the requirements of the act.
As noted above, the act contains 48 sections that control the relation between and landlord and tenant and MUST be complied with. It is probably fair to say that landlords have read the act and understand its provisions. They know what their obligations are and they know what they are entitled to. So, it is equally important for tenants to read and understand what their rights and obligations are under the act. Ignorance of the law is no excuse or a defense. FBN