PHOENIX — Imagine thousands of Arizonans being removed from their homes. That's the chaotic scene some say could happen next month when an order delaying eviction enforcement ends.
The order by Governor Doug Ducey allowed evictions to continue, but if a tenant had a COVID-19-related reason for not paying their rent, enforcement would be delayed until July 23.
In an urgent letter to the governor, 33 state Democratic lawmakers want that deadline extended 6 months.
State Senator Sean Bowie is one of those legislators. He says now is just the wrong time, "With our case numbers continuing to increase, with the economy struggling to get going, we hope the governor will extend the protections.”
In the letter to the governor, Bowie and the other lawmakers say in Maricopa County alone "1700 eviction orders have been issued since mid-March."
They say those evictions will be "ripe for enforcement upon expiration of your order."
There is no procedure on how enforcement will even happen.
"As of right now unless the law changes, constables could come to lock out tenants on July 23," says Pam Bridge, an attorney with the non-profit Community Legal Services.
Bridge says tenants should have a written notice that they will be locked out on a certain date.
There are other concerns involving how rent will be paid. While some tenants continued paying partial rent during this time, others paid no rent. All of the past-due rent becomes due when the enforcement delay is over. With many people still out of work, that could be tough for renters.
Sources of help are available. There is federal money available. There are also millions of state dollars that are supposed to go to tenants through the Arizona Department of Housing. Bridge also says "tenants should reach out to county and cities to see if they have rental assistance."
State money is addressed in the lawmakers’ letter, which blames the governor for "delays in delivering this assistance to eligible families." The letter claims, "less than 30% of $50 million has been allocated," so far. "The governor is the only one who can allocate those funds," Bowie says.
As for an extension of the eviction enforcement, the governor is not committing. His office says it is working with groups "to determine any additional actions that may be needed following the order's expiration." In an email, the governor's office also says "we also are continuing to focus on getting assistance to all those impacted by COVID-19. This includes distributing more than $2 billion in unemployment assistance since April; allocating more than $440 million to local governments; $5 million for homeless shelters; $5 million for eviction assistance; $1.75 million to enhance food security; and millions more for other efforts to protect our most vulnerable."
For renters who cannot make up what they owe having an eviction on their record can be a problem. Bridge says it prevents them from getting subsidized housing and many landlords will not want to rent to them. She suggests all renters try to work out an agreement with their landlord as early as possible if they want to stay.