Toma amends Section 8 voucher bill, advocates still worry




A bill under consideration at the Capitol that could give landlords the ability to evict tenants who pay their rents with assistance from the federal government’s Section 8 housing voucher program has been amended by the bill’s sponsor in an attempt to alleviate concerns.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said he introduced House Bill 2358 at the request of the Arizona Multihousing Association, a trade group for large rental properties.

The amendment modifies language in the bill in an attempt to close loopholes that housing advocates feared would be taken advantage of by landlords.

The bill’s aim is still to allow landlords to terminate a contract even if a voucher is accepted, which Toma and others say is to help protect landlords from bad tenants and prevent landlords from leaving the Section 8 program.

Toma said the bill is a response to a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling from last year.

The crux of that ruling was that, if a landlord accepts a rental housing voucher payment, that counts as accepting a partial payment and means the tenant is protected under Arizona law from eviction.

The amendment to HB2358 changes one particular part from “a landlord’s acceptance of a housing assistance payment does not constitute an acceptance of rent” to “a landlord’s acceptance of a housing assistance payment does not constitute an acceptance of a partial payment of rent.”

This change, Toma said, would close the loophole that advocates feared would allow landlords to evict tenants who give payment to their landlord with assistance from nonprofits and churches.

Toma’s legislative district had 177 calls to the Arizona 2-1-1 system by people looking for housing assistance in the last 12 months. Of those 177 calls, the majority of them were for people looking for help with rental assistance.

“No protections for tenants”

Others, like Ken Volk, a long-time advocate for tenants rights, are happy with the change but still say the law would unfairly harm tenants.

Volk and other advocates are concerned that the bill could allow for “double dipping.” By saying a voucher does not count as rent, then if a landlord does evict a tenant, a court could rule that the tenant has to pay what was already given to the landlord through a voucher.

Volk proposed another scenario the bill doesn’t account for either. If a tenant decides to not pay their portion of the rent that a voucher doesn’t cover due to issues such as a broken air conditioners, having to do repairs or any other legal reason to withhold rent, because the bill says the voucher does not count as partial rent, a landlord could kick out that tenant for nonpayment.

Volk is also concerned about how the bill could allow for landlords to evict tenants for infractions occurring in prior rental periods, something that isn’t allowed current statutes due to waiver. In a scenario proposed by Volk, a tenant who didn’t pay their share of the rent during one month, could later be evicted the next month even after a landlord receives voucher payments for both months. Under the current law a landlord cannot evict someone retroactively after receiving another payment for rent, whether partial or in full.

The amendment helps smooth some of this out but Volk still thinks it is not enough to close that loophole and the bill also misses some other nuances with the law, Volk said.

Volk said the best way to address that concern is to amend the bill to say “a landlord’s acceptance of a housing assistance payment does not constitute a waiver of a landlord’s right to terminate the rental agreement for any contemporaneous breach by the tenant.”

By eliminating the language referring to rent or rental payments, it allows landlords to still have the power to evict a tenant after receiving a voucher, but still keeps a voucher as a form of rent.

But even with that language, Volk said the bill still would unfairly help landlords over tenants.

“There’s no protection for the tenant in this,” Volk said. “This is not a tenant-friendly bill by any means.”

“If you’re going to create a law, you should know the implications of the law,” Volk said, adding that the bill will likely have many unintended consequences for tenants. “These politicians don’t understand the nuance of landlord/tenant law.”

“I’ve been under the gun a little bit on this”

Michael Shore is the president and CEO of Hom Inc., a Phoenix company that provides rental assistance and other programs aimed at alleviating issues related to poverty.

He’s been doing it for more than 20 years and has a strong passion for issues like affordable housing and the ongoing increase in rental prices seen across the Valley. Now, because of his support for HB2358, he has found himself opposing people who he considers friends and close colleagues.

“I don’t like to be in opposition, but at the same time, I have to do what’s right,” Shore said. “I’ve been under the gun a little bit on this one.”

After the 2018 court ruling, Shore said landlords began approaching him and his organization, voicing concern about how it could affect them and questioning whether they should continue to participate in Section 8. After that, he was approached by the Multihousing Association and asked if he would be in support of a bill they planned to propose to fix the issue.

Shore said yes, but didn’t see the language of the bill until it was at its first committee hearing.

The version the committee considered seemed too broad and created issues with the way it was defining rental payments.

“They brought up good points that I shared their concerns with,” Shore said about advocates who came to speak in opposition at the bill’s first hearing. He said the AMA asked if he could help fix those issues, and the amendment Toma proposed was essentially what Shore suggested.

For Shore, it’s a matter of education. Many judges, landlords, tenants and lawmakers don’t understand landlord/tenant law, Shore said.

A prime example of that in Shore’s eyes were the complaints about the inclusion of nonprofit and for profit entities in the first version of HB2358.

“It’s not just a housing authority game anymore, and hasn’t been for years,” Shore said. His own organization is a for-profit enterprise, and organizations like Central Arizona Shelter Services give rental assistance, as well.

Shore said the main goal of the bill is to get the law back to “where it was before” the court case that triggered the bill’s proposal.

As for the double-dipping that Volk fears?

Shore agreed that the original version of the bill would have allowed for this, but said the new language makes it clear that assistance payments are, in fact, rent and must be applied to rent. Shore said it may take educating judges on how these housing assistance payment contracts work in order to truly protect tenants.

“I’d like to not come off as the lackey of the AMA,” Shore said, adding that he feels finding middle ground between landlords and tenants is key to solving the affordable housing crisis.

But Volk and others are not convinced.

Volk has already had discussions with Toma about the bill, and was assured that additional changes would be made to ensure bad landlords wouldn’t benefit, but Volk said he feels like it is a losing battle.

“I think 2358 is a forgone conclusion,” Volk said. “It’s going to pass and it’s going to become law, and it’s horrible.”

The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on a 45-15 vote. It now moves to the Senate.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

2 COMMENTS

  1. To all concerned: I’ve been trying to apply for Section 8 but I keep running into credit check applications. I can’t seem to get past them to get to the actual application. Could you please help me cut through the credit check applications so I can get to the actual Section 8 application? Could you please help me in this matter? Regards Ken Stout Email: [email protected] Cellphone: 408-637-8229

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