Are week-to-week tenants living in extended stay motels or halfway houses covered by the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act? This is a topic that has come up in our office recently,  Generally speaking, under A.R.S.§ 33-1375(A) week-to-week tenants require a ten day notice to terminate their tenancy, and they’re entitled to due process (such as it is in Arizona) when they don’t pay rent.  But there is ambiguity about week-to-week tenants in extended-stay motels and also tenants in halfway houses.  Recently we’ve had a spate of tenants from extended-stay motels calling us because they’re being evicted without due process.  The position of the motel management, of course, is that motels are inherently not covered by the landlord/tenant act, and that extends to tenants who are paying by the week and who have lived in the motel for quite a while.  Our position, as advocates, is that these tenants are covered, and in fact, that’s where most of the week-to-week tenants live.

Clearly, guests who stay at a motel for a night or two are not residents of that motel and are not covered by the landlord/tenant act.  If they don’t pay a night’s rent in advance, they can be kicked out without due process. But the question of long-term tenants in extended-stay motels who pay weekly is not one that has been addressed.

This question came to a head recently when two different tenants from the same extended stay complex called us on the same day complaining that they were being kicked out without being given the chance to pay another week’s rent.  I don’t know the details of why the motel chose to do so, but I told the tenants to call the police.  It has been my experience that the police maintain the status quo: in a roommate dispute, for example, if the roommate at issue is still in the apartment, the police will tell the prime tenant to go to court.  But if the roommate is out, then the police will tell him he’s the one who needs to go to court to regain access.

But in this situation, the police did not operate in this fashion.  They came on scene and let the motel put out the two tenants.

I called the police precinct to try to give them some understanding of the landlord/tenant act.  But I spoke only to the dispatcher, and no one called me back that day.  However, a few days later I got a call from a sergeant working in that precinct.  He and I had a long discussion of whether extended-stay guests were considered tenants.  This officer was actually very bright; at first he was skeptical about my claims that the guests were in fact tenants under the law, but when I referred him to the aforementioned statute, A.R.S. § 33-1375(A), and also A.R.S. § 33-1310, which defines a tenant as “a person entitled under a rental agreement to occupy a dwelling unit to the exclusion of others,” he became interested.  He ultimately actually became convinced that weekly motel guests are tenants, and he said he is going to go to the Phoenix Police legal department and try to get some clarification on this issue.

He then brought up the problem with halfway houses.  These, too, are generally week-to-week residencies.  But it is a tricky issue because a halfway house cannot operate if it cannot summarily evict a resident who has relapsed; it would be poison to the other recovering addicts and alcoholics.  But so many halfway houses in Arizona are scams: they’re just slum property where two to four people are jammed into a bedroom, so that a typical 2-bedroom apartment would have eight people living in it paying $100 or more rent weekly.  There are no real programs offered in these types of houses: sometimes there’s a requirement that residents attend AA meetings, but that’s about it.

The landlord/tenant act, under A.R.S. § 33-1308(1), excludes social service organizations and agencies.  It is on this basis that halfway houses claim exemption from the law.  But so many of them clearly are not real social service organizations.  I would love to take the halfway house establishment on – if you know anyone who was evicted without due process from one of these slum houses that don’t provide services, have them call me.  We’ll litigate the case, up to the Superior Court, if necessary, and put these guys out of business.

The police sergeant told me that the reason he brought it up is that the Phoenix Police are starting a new project of shutting down phony halfway houses for mentally ill people, places that take the entire Social Security check and jam these mentally ill people into the same kind of living arrangements as halfway houses.  These landlords are the scum of the scum, preying on the weakest people in society, and they need to be put out of business.  The sergeant told me that the police may be interested in going after phony halfway houses as well, and he asked me to stay in touch and give him names of tenants and houses as they come up.

This is why Arizona needs a tenants union.  I find it extraordinary that the police are actually taking the side of poor people.  But they are talking to us, and at least this sergeant has made it clear that he was amenable to developing a relationship with us.  If they actually change their policy regarding evicting extended-stay or halfway house occupants, it will be huge.  We will have effectuated actual institutional change!