Recently, a client came into my office a fairly minor problem. It was one that was relatively easy to solve, with my knowledge of landlord/tenant law. But it was causing her a lot of distress and it so typified the landlord/tenant relationship in Arizona. It wasn’t the kind of issue that the media would take hold of. Nor was it one which would normally express more than the usual outrage that happens in day-to-day life. But even if it was a minor problem, it was still an outrageous situation, precisely the kind of situation in which tenants need the help of the Arizona Tenants Union.
What happened was that a woman rented a house with a broken sprinkler system and a dead front lawn. She asked the landlord to repair it but he wouldn’t. Then the HOA sent the landlord a notice of violation. In turn, the landlord, pointing to a provision in her lease that required her to comply with the HOA rules, and he demanded that she re-sod the front yard. He also threatened to take her rent money and apply it to HOA fines if she did not comply.
The tenant did not know what to do. She certainly did not have the hundreds of dollars needed to re-sod the lawn. She called ATU and we had her come in. Quickly it became apparent it it was a minor problem. It is not the tenant’s responsibility to repair the condition in the front lawn. A.R.S. § 33-1324 provides that the landlord must maintain the property. The only exception is if the lease provides specific consideration in exchange for her performing the landlord’s duties. For example, she could agree to re-sod the lawn in exchange for a rent deduction of $250.00 off the rent for the next three months. But this lease did not contain such a provision.
The lease did contain a provision that the tenant was responsible for the violations of HOA requirements. But that, too, was a minor problem: the provision was unenforceable. A.R.S. § 33-1315(A) provides that a landlord may not include a provision in the rental agreement under which the tenant forgoes her rights under the law. The tenant had the right to demand that the landlord maintain the premises; the landlord refused. Therefore, the consequence stemming from the landlord’s refusal – the HOA violation – must be borne solely by the landlord.
And what if the tenant had not come to us and the landlord had applied her rent money towards an HOA violation? Well, even if she was responsible for fixing the front yard (say, her dog tore it up), and the HOA violation was legitimate, it would still be a relatively minor problem. In that situation, the tenant would be responsible for the fines. However, the landlord could not take the fines out of the rent. A.R.S. § 33-1310(11) specifically provides that “rent” means payments to be made in consideration for the rented premises. They may not be applied towards fines. Moreover, the remedies are different. Failure to pay rent subjects the tenant to court action after the expiration of a 5-day notice. Failure to cure a lease violation, on the other hand, subjects the tenant to a 10-day notice. In this situation, the landlord would have to serve the tenant a 10-day notice and then go after her in civil court, not eviction court.
Each of the issues the tenant was facing was a minor problem because they were all resolvable in her favor under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. But a minor problem under the law is a major problem to tenants who don’t know the law and feel stuck. We wrote a letter to the landlord on behalf of the tenant advising him that the tenant had joined Arizona Tenants Union and that the landlord was responsible for the repairs. We told him that if he made any overture to retaliate against the tenant he would be subject to penalties of double the rent under A.R.S. § 33-1381. The landlord, understanding that the tenant knew her rights and was supported by us, quickly backed down and re-sodded the front yard himself. The problem indeed was a minor problem. But it was only so becaues the tenant joined Arizona Tenants Association and we knew what to do. Such is the power of belonging to a tenants union. Even if you are living in a house by yourself and don’t have other tenants whose doors you knock on to form a tenant organization and speak to the landlord collectively, you are still backed up by all of the other members of the union. Join Arizona Tenants Union today and be protected under the umbrella of the organization in Arizona that advocates for tenants’ rights.