Are you a renter in financial trouble? Some tenants are not using protections to stay in homes

Posted at 4:00 AM, Sep 28, 2020

PHOENIX — From payment assistance to an eviction delay, renters with financial issues have protections to help them stay in their homes. But it takes knowing the rules and using them to stay in your home even if you can't pay. And some tenants either don't know the rules or are confused by them.

We were with Maricopa County constables recently as they were carrying out court-ordered evictions. Constable Lennie McCloskey took his time explaining to one tenant why he was there.

He asked if she could pay her three months' worth of rent. She said she could later that day. McCloskey told her if she came up with the money, she'd be let back in. But for now, the door lock was changed and she had to leave.

I asked the Maricopa County Presiding Constable Mike Branham if the tenant had mentioned coronavirus, what would have happened. "We would have stopped immediately, seeing what paperwork she'd given to the landlord," he says.

The tenant had none of that.

There are currently two protections against eviction enforcement in Arizona. A governor's order keeps tenants who can't pay in their homes until November if they have a pandemic-related reason for financial problems.

A newer federal order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is broader. It allows tenants to stay in their places until the end of the year. And the financial reasons do not have to be tied to the pandemic.

Basically, to qualify, Community Legal Services attorney Pam Bridge says tenants must have income loss, must try working out payment with the landlord or better yet, pay what they can. She says "if the landlord won't take it, you should be putting that aside."

The protection is for renters with incomes up to $99,000 yearly.

And tenants must have applied for rental assistance. No proof is needed, but Bridge says tenants face a $100,000 penalty if they lie.

Tenants must print the form, sign it and Bridge says give it to the landlord early. And keep a copy to present to a constable if they come knocking.

The constables say their job is to respectfully carry out court orders. They take each situation case by case. And when I asked Branham if constables can tell the tenant about the protections and how that could keep them in their homes, he said he can't do that. "No, because we don't advocate for one side or the other.”

So it's up to tenants to know what the protections require and have everything ready just in case. You can check out renter protections and download the forms and requirements through the Community Legal Services website.