Arizona Tenants Union helps its members invoke various remedies for landlord abuse that the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act affords. But each time I walk a tenant through the process of, say, legally invoking the “repair and deduct” process under A.R.S. § 33-1361(A), I worry that a judge (well, Justice of the Peace – I hate to give them the respect which the word “judge” accords) will evict them anyway. The authorities who adjudicate landlord and tenant battles are unspeakably incompetent, not to mention entirely pro-landlord. Seriously: I’ve seen month-to-month tenants who ask for repairs get a notice of termination the next day . . . and when they try to assert the retaliation defense, the JPs don’t even know what that means.
Additionally, when tenants try to go at it alone, they become targets for landlord harassment. But if tenants get together and form a tenant association, the balance of power entirely changes. Now the landlord has ten, or twenty, or a hundred tenants to deal with. What’s he going to do: serve a hundred notices of termination? And if the tenants collectively start the process of repair and deduct, so that that twenty tenants threaten to use half their $1,000 rent money – $500 each – to make repairs, that’s $10,000 of the landlord’s money that they’re exerting control over. I guarantee the landlord will sit up and take notice. It’s amazing how the most bullying of landlords are the ones who come groveling the most when tenants act as a group.
Landlords do several things to try to defeat tenant organizing. Sometimes they’ll try to identify and pick out the people they consider the tenant leaders and concentrate their efforts on evicting them, so that other tenants become scared and back off. Other times they’ll renovate the apartment of the tenant leader to try to buy him off. Still other times they’ll make a public showing of doing minor work around the building so that the tenants will think their problems are being addressed and the association will dissolve. Or they’ll start a dialogue with tenant representatives, and engage in an endless series of meeting to assuage the tenants while doing very little actual work.
The key to defeating every single tactic of the landlord is to stick together. Don’t let the action fizzle out. And whatever happens, don’t pull out after your individual problem is fixed. If a landlord serves a notice of eviction on a tenant, either because the landlord has retaliated and terminated his lease, or the tenant has invoked the “repair and deduct” strategy and spent part of his rent money on repairs, every single tenant in the tenant association should accompany that tenant to court, if possible. Even the worst of judges will take notice.
I went to a tenant association meeting last night in a complex with 92 units. The tenants actually initiated the organizing process of the building themselves and invited us. This was a first meeting and not all of the building showed up, but there was an excitement and enthusiasm on the part of the tenants who were there to engage in the organizing effort. It was exhilarating to see such an active group of people who cared about each other and wanted to fight not only for themselves but for the community. This is what ATU is about.
If you are a tenant in a building that is organizing, please do not be scared to be part of the movement. If anything, joining the tenants association in the building, along with joining Arizona Tenants Union, will afford you more protection because doing so gives you the defense of landlord retaliation if he tries to go after you. A.R.S. § 33-1381. And if the landlord does terminate your lease because of action you take, you know there will be a lot of people behind you, supporting you. Additionally, ATU has media contacts (in fact, I’ll be on Channel 3 tonight, Thursday 7/7/16 at 9:00 pm) and no judge is going to want to be seen as the monster he really is on television.
Once the action at the building I went to last night takes off, I’m going get some media coverage of that, and maybe it will spark an organizing effort in another building, and then another, until tenants’ rights and tenant activism become part of the cultural landscape of Arizona. It’s an ambitious project, I know, but sometimes what’s needed is an organizer to come in and stir the pot that’s already boiling.
Call ATU about forming a tenants association in your building. We will go with you and knock on doors if that’s what it takes. If we really want to change the way landlords treat tenants in Arizona, if we really want landlords to understand that all the tactics they learned in Landlord 101 no long work – stealing tenants’ security deposits, wrongly accusing tenants they don’t like of bogus lease violations, etc., etc. – we have to organize and fight. There’s simply no other way to do it. Tenants in New York and Chicago and Seattle and Boston and Philadelphia and Cleveland and multiple cities in California have organized and formed statewide tenants’ unions which has caused landlords as a whole to back down and respect tenants. There’s no reason we can’t do that here in Arizona. Join Arizona Tenants Union today! Dare to struggle, dare to win!