Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during press conference update on COVID-19 on July 30, 2020. Photo by Cheryl Evans/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo
Trade groups representing landlords and trailer park owners are suing to overturn Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order barring most evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Arizona Multihousing Association and the Manufactured Housing Communities of Arizona filed the suit, alleging that Ducey’s order unconstitutionally overrules contracts that landlords have with tenants.
“Property owners statewide, from mom and pops to large rental communities, have done everything they can to work with residents. They’ve made payment arrangements, waived fees, helped renters fill out relief applications and worked with every agency that will listen on what’s necessary to avoid evictions,” AMA President Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
Ducey issued a moratorium first in March, then extended it last month until Oct. 31. When he extended it, Ducey also created funds aimed at providing financial assistance to landlords and property owners who hadn’t been able to collect rent from tenants.
The moratorium still allows for evictions to take place, but tenants cannot be removed from their residences if they qualify under certain COVID-19 exemptions. However, the process has proven to be tricky.
“The eviction moratorium has created a rent holiday for thousands of renters, while property owners still have a mortgage and taxes and bills to pay – including utility bills for many residents who are paying no rent,” Gilstrap LeVinus said.
The Aspen Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., in June estimated that 20 million renters nationwide are at risk of eviction by the end of the year. Based on the 676,000 or so Arizonans who had filed at that time for unemployment since the pandemic began in March, the group estimates about 578,000 Arizona renters could face eviction by the end of September.
Since that study was completed, the number of Arizonans seeking unemployment aid has grown to more than 860,000.
Ducey in March created a $5 million rent-assistance fund to help people avoid eviction, but it has been slow to distribute money. And much of the money remains unused: The Arizona Republic reported that only about $1.1 million has been sent to renters needing assistance.
That issue appears to be a key argument of the two groups.
“This is about a serious crisis that needs to be fixed immediately, because providing free housing while receiving no relief for seven months is not sustainable and not fair,” Gilstrap LeVinus said.
The press release cites figures and a report by an economic and real estate firm based in Scottsdale that says if 15% of all renters did not pay rent during the entirety of the moratorium, it could mean an economic loss of $1.3 billion.
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