The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act excludes a number of different types of rental property from the law. A.R.S. § 33-1308(1) provides that among the exclusions are “residence at an institution, public or private, if incidental to detention, the provision of medical, educational, counseling or religious services or the provision of a social service program that is provided by a social service provider.” The paragraph then goes on to state that a “‘social service provider’ means a private entity that directly assists an individual or family in obtaining housing and that offers to provide the individual or family with assistance in obtaining employment, child care, health care, education, skills training, transportation, counseling or any other related service.”
The intent of the legislature when enacting the provision was to exclude schools, medical facilities, and legitimate social service agencies. But there is a type of entity that claims exemption from the landlord/tenant act under the guise of being a social service provider, but which in fact is simply an extreme version slum housing. These entities are “halfway houses.”
There are legitimate treatment facilities for drug addicts that have to be able to summarily evict residents that have relapsed and therefore pose a danger to other patients. But tucked away in corners throughout the seedy neighborhoods in Arizona are “halfway houses” that purport to be social service providers and therefore claim exemption from the landlord/tenant act, but which are, in fact, simply ultra-slum housing, usually serving the recently released prisoners, and which in fact offer no services at all. These are the worst apartments imaginable. They often have four people jammed into a single bedroom on two bunk beds, each of whom is charged $120/week or more. The owners of these apartments, which might cost them $750/month for a two bedroom unit, can take in as much as $1,200 a week for ten people, or $5000 a month! And if a tenant cannot come up with a week’s rent, he can literally be thrown out on the street with no court proceeding, often by force.
The owners of these facilities justify their practices by claiming they are social service providers, usually sober living facilities. But this is just a cover. These halfway houses offer no services at all. At most, they have a requirement that residents attend 12-step meetings, which is not a service provided by the house. But what these facilities really do is exploit the most vulnerable members of society, the recently released prisoner, by locking him in a cycle where, if he does have a marginal job and is able to pay the rent, that rent is set just high enough so that he cannot save up enough money for a security deposit and first month’s rent and get his own apartment. And if he is unable to pay the rent, he is simply thrown on to the street where, with no meaningful alternatives, he is likely to re-offend and go back to prison. There are no exit strategies that these halfway houses offer to recently released prisoners who want to become productive members of society.
Most Arizona residents don’t know (and probably haven’t thought about) the fact that the State of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Corrections do not have any release facilities or reintegration system for exiting inmates. When an inmate is released from prison he is simply thrown on to the street with $50.00 in his pocket , or assigned to go to one of these private halfway houses where he’s behind in his rent as soon as he walks in the door. The State’s treatment of these people is disgraceful. But there is a special place in Hell for the halfway house owners who exploit the situation and reap huge profits as a result.
There is an even more insidious form of this type of scam. There are a number of “social service providers” who claim exemption from the landlord/tenant act because they rent to “problem tenants,” usually those with felonies or evictions on their records. (You can see these places advertised on the back page of the New Times.) But all these landlords simply do is rent a block of apartments from an apartment complex and then sublet them to their “clients” at a substantially increased rent. They don’t even pretend to offer any services. But like the halfway houses, if a tenant doesn’t pay his rent, he is thrown on to the street with no due process.
One of the things we at Arizona Tenants Union would like to see happen is for those unscrupulous halfway house owners who use the loophole in the law to take advantage of the most vulnerable member of society to be held accountable for their actions. It is our position that the legislature never intended private slum facilities that offer no services to be exempt from the landlord/tenant act. If you or anyone you know has been thrown out on to the street with no due process, either because he could not come up with the rent or because of an unsubstantiated allegation made against him, call us. If the tenant is willing to put in the effort, we would love to walk him up through the legal process and up the judicial ladder and try to obtain a precedent-setting declaratory judgment that private halfway houses that jam people into slum apartments, offer no services, and evict them without going through the court process, are not exempt from the landlord/tenant act. If we’re successful, we could put this entire class of slumlords out of business, and at the same time, change the landscape of opportunities for recently released prisoners so that they can reintegrate into society as productive citizens rather than re-offend and continue the cycle of crime.