This is a follow-up to a blog I wrote last week about the rights of week-to-week tenants, and in particular, those week-to-week tenants who live in extended-stay motels. The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act specifically governs tenants in week-to-week situations: A.R.S. § 33-1368 provides that week-to-week tenancies require a ten day notice to terminate either by the landlord or the tenant. And by these tenancies being covered by the landlord/tenant act, landlords are obligated to take tenants to court for nonpayment of rent as well; they cannot simply lock them out as they can in a single-night stay motel.
The managers of extended-stay motels, of course, claim that those are fundamentally motels, not residences, and therefore they are exempt from the landlord/tenant act. This issue came up in our office because two separate tenants at Budget Suites Extended Stay Hotel on Indian School Rd., both of whom who had lived there for several months, were summarily evicted at the end of the same week without due process. They called us and we dispatched the police and tried to convince both the police and the hotel managers that the tenants were covered by the landlord/tenant act and were entitled to due process. At the end of the day, both tenants were evicted. However, today, a few days later, the most extraordinary thing happened.
This morning I got a call from a tenant at that same hotel, Budget Suites, complaining that she was served a ten-day notice terminating her tenancy and asking me if that was legal. I’ve never been so happy to see a landlord give a tenant an eviction notice in my life.
It seems that Budget Suites, at least for now, has changed its policy and is considering week-to-week residents to be tenants who are covered under the landlord/tenant act and entitled to the due process of being served 10-day notices. That’s really amazing: we got their attention and it seems like they are actually trying to comply with our interpretation of the law. What’s particularly funny about this situation is that it because they clearly didn’t have any experience following the law, they did it all wrong. This tenant was behind in her rent, and she was subject to receiving a five-day notice for nonpayment, just like any other tenant. Budget Suites served her that five day notice – something they had never done before for a tenant who was behind in her rent. This was a further indication that, at the minimum, they’re playing it safe and treating week-to-week occupants as tenants. But then they turned around and also served her a ten-day notice of termination of a week-to-week tenancy. Well, this reinstates the tenancy that was terminated by the five-day notice for nonpayment of rent. If they go after the tenant pursuant to the five-day notice, not the ten-day notice, the tenant will have a defense: that the ten-day notice reinstated her tenancy, at least for another five days. And you can bet that we will defend that tenant, the one who is in the wrong and behind on her rent. As I said in my last blog, everyone is entitled to due process. The fact that Budget Suites is trying to do the right thing by considering their residents to be tenants protected under the landlord/tenant act doesn’t give them a pass for their procedural errors – especially since they made those errors in the first place precisely because they do not have the experience of legally evicting tenants since all they have done up to this point has been simply to lock them out.
Of course, in the long run, the joke will probably be on us. JP courts are notoriously anti-tenant, and many JPs aren’t smart enough to understand the nuances of the law. I can just see a Justice of the Peace, after all this, adjusting his cowboy hat, spitting out the tobacco he was chewing, and saying, “Why is this case coming before me? These aren’t tenant’s, they’re hotel residents. They’re not entitled to due process,” and then summarily evicting them.
Nevertheless, the fact that Budget Suites actually served a legal notice on a resident marks a shift in landlord/tenant relationships in this state. A small shift to be sure, but it actually suggests much broader implications: that some institutions in society are finally taking notice that tenants who were previously unnoticed have rights. And this is why I do what I do: defending a tenant who is wrongly not paying her rent, for whatever the reason, and then watching her (probably) get evicted. Because even as this is happening, the ground is starting to swell, and the tide of landlord omnipotence is beginning to abate. And so I say: join the movement! Join the Arizona Tenants Union! One of the interesting things about doing organizing work in a state with no culture of organizing is that your adversary, whichever oppressor he might be, doesn’t have the experience to know what tactics to use to defeat you. So it doesn’t take much to make change. Seriously. This victory of getting a tenant evicted at Budget Suites through due process is an example of just how powerful we can be.