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Can't pay rent? You may end up in evictions court!

How to avoid it and what to do if you're there!
Posted: 6:00 AM, Feb 20, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-20 12:48:58-05
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As rental prices grow in many Arizona cities, so do the number of renters being evicted.

Most can't afford attorneys and end up losing the place they call "home."

Recently, we were in a downtown Phoenix evictions court with Judge Leonore Driggs.

There are so many evictions, they are heard at different times on various days in multiple courtrooms.

Driggs says she averages 563 eviction actions a month -- and that's just one of 26 courts hearing evictions.

On the day we were there, we met a renter who couldn't keep up with her payments. She told me she was sick and couldn't work.

She says she let the management know and tried to work out an agreement, but ended up with an eviction notice.

She told me, "my heart just dropped." She said, "I don't know where I'm going to go, what I'm going to do. I'm lost."

She also said she'd likely be homeless.

Metro Phoenix has the fastest-growing rent increases in the country. Rentcafe says those rates are up 9.6% in a year.

As the economy gets better, eviction notices are rising from nearly 63,000 in 2016 to near 68,000 last year in Maricopa County alone.

In evictions court, not being able to pay rent is not an acceptable excuse. Neither is withholding rent.

We heard tenants tell a judge, "we've been dealing with a rat situation for two years." They also complained the bathroom and kitchen sinks didn't work properly.

But Driggs says that's not allowed in Arizona. There are systems in place where tenants need to let landlords know about issues within a certain period of time and it needs to be done a certain way.

Click here for more on your landlord/tenant rights from the Arizona Legal Center.

The Arizona Attorney General also handles landlord/tenant issues.

The lesson from evictions court: if you can't pay, try working out a plan with the landlord BEFORE you are late.

We saw tenants who showed up and worked out deals with the landlord's representatives, but most tenants do not show up, or don't have an attorney if they do.

Out of nearly 62,000 eviction actions in a recent one-year period, only 201 tenants had legal representation.

If tenants have a valid reason not to be evicted, a judge can allow the case to go to trial. That way tenants can show the proof they have about why they didn't pay a certain amount.

Driggs says in that situation, not having an attorney shouldn't be a disadvantage. She says she tries to lead renters through the process during a trial.

The court also limits late payment fees to $300 and attorney fees to $90.

Driggs also advises renters who are evicted to hand over their keys in person. She says renters have been hit with garnishments to their paychecks later. It happens if there is confusion over when the renter actually left.

Back to the renter I mentioned earlier -- her partial payment wasn't enough.

The judge says she had no choice but to issue a judgment against her. But that still means she can try and work out an agreement with the landlord.

I asked how she would come up with the money to stay. She told me she wasn't sure and started to cry.

She says if the landlord and she reach an agreement, she'll work extra hours to get everything paid.

We made a call to the woman's landlord.

No word yet on any agreement.

If you can't afford an attorney, Community Legal Services may be able to help.

Click here to see income qualifications and more or call 800-852-9075.

The Arizona Housing Coalition tries helping renters and buyers find homes.

They push for changes in funding at the state level.

Click here to access Section 8 subsidized housing options.

Watch instructional videos about landlord/tenant disputes and the evictions process.