Arizona Renters Hurt by COVID-19 Must Follow These 4 Steps by Aug. 22 to Avoid Eviction

Article originally posted on AZ Central on July 28, 2020

Nonprofit Native American Connections just opened this new affordable apartment complex in downtown Phoenix at Sixth Avenue and Fillmore Street.

Arizona renters struggling due to COVID-19 have gained more time to avoid eviction, but they must submit new paperwork to their landlords by Aug. 22 to keep their homes.

Under Gov. Doug Ducey’s extension of the state’s eviction moratorium through Oct. 31, renters must:

  • Re-notify the landlord of their hardship.
  • Show proof of their ongoing hardship.
  • Request a payment plan from their landlord.
  • Show they have completed an application for rental aid.

“We know many Arizonans continue to face economic hardship as a result of COVID-19,” governor spokesman Patrick Ptak said. “Our desire is to see people stay in their homes and ensure a strong safety net for those who are struggling. This extension allows renters extra time to access assistance programs and enter into payment plans with landlords.”

Millions of dollars in assistance are supposed to start flowing soon to tenants and landlords from state, county and city programs after being bottlenecked for months. That should help tenants make up what they owe to landlords and eliminate the risk of eviction when the latest moratorium ends.

But if renters don’t understand or follow the new requirements of the moratorium extension, they could get kicked out, saidPamela Bridge, of Community Legal Services, which provides free legal help to low-income Arizonans.

“Tenants and landlords have the next month to work on the new requirements,” she said.

How to qualify for extended eviction relief

Renters are eligible for eviction relief if:

  • Someone in the home is quarantined because of symptoms or a diagnosis of the new coronavirus.
  • A tenant’s health condition puts them at high risk for contracting the virus.
  • A tenant lost their job or faced a pay cut due to COVID-19.
  • Or a tenant can’t work due to caring for a child who normally would be in school.

Previously, renters were required to notify their landlord in writing and provide proof of their hardship, such as a layoff letter or pay stubs.

Renters can find tip sheets, forms and other resources online at bit.ly/32RoinZ. They must do the following before Aug. 22 to qualify for the eviction extension:

  • Re-notify the landlord of their hardship in writing.
  • Provide proof to the landlord of ongoing hardship due to COVID-19, such as an employer letter of separation, documentation that the renter has filed for unemployment, a medical order from a doctor, medical records or medical history, or other verifiable forms of documentation.
  • Request a payment plan in writing from the landlord.
  • Provide proof to the landlord of a completed application for rental assistance. A list of rental assistance programs is at housing.az.gov.
  • Show copies of all documentation if a constable shows up.

Renters should make sure the landlord receives the documents by sending them through email or certified mail and should keep copies on hand to provide to a judge or constable.

Judges can still order evictions, but constables should let renters stay

Even if a renter provides the required paperwork to the landlord, the landlord can take the tenant to court for overdue rent and a judge can grant an eviction judgment.

But if a tenant shows the paperwork to a constable who arrives to lock the tenant out, the constable is supposed to let the renter stay.

A landlord can go back to court to ask for a “motion to compel” to proceed with the eviction. If that happens, a renter should provide all documentation to the judge ahead of the hearing and request protection under the eviction moratorium.

All accumulated rent and late fees come due once a tenant’s health or income improves or the order expires Oct. 31, whichever comes first.

Many worry renters faced with a buildup of debt won’t be able to pay.

That’s why Ducey’s latest order urges tenants to pursue aid from rental assistance programs as soon as possible to minimize or eliminate back-owed rent and put money more quickly in landlords’ pockets.

‘Do what you need to do to get those applications in’

Maricopa County Justice Courts and constables were bracing for a “tidal wave” of evictions before Ducey extended the moratorium.

Now justices hope that struggling renters understand and follow the new guidelines by the Aug. 22 deadline, court spokesperson Scott Davis said. Otherwise, evictions could rise.

“It’s early on so we won’t know of any specific complications until we see them,” he said.

Tenants should also be sure that their applications for rental assistance are complete. As many as 40% of requests for help to the Arizona Department of Housing have been rejected as “incomplete” because of missing documentation, according to recent state data.

“We know some renters think they have applied for aid, but their applications weren’t considered complete,” Bridge said. “We are telling tenants to call, call and call to get confirmation of their applications.”

The state housing department hired four staffers to reach out to applicants who are missing documentation and help them complete the paperwork.

“We’re hopeful that the changes and the adjustments made with this policy will help ensure that no renter is in that position where they aren’t able to complete an application for assistance,” Ptak said. “Do what you need to do to get those applications in.”

Another thing tenants should know: Approval of a payment plan from a landlord is not required. But renters must have proof that they requested one.

Some renters have said that landlords have not responded to requests for a payment plan or insisted on an unaffordable amount upfront.

The governor encourages tenants to communicate with their landlords and for landlords to agree to reasonable terms and waive late fees, Ptak said.

The Governor’s Office provided guidance for tenants and landlords on the eviction relief requirements.

Speeding up state aid to renters and landlords

Arizona renters have struggled to receive money from the Arizona Department of Housing’s Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance fund since it was launched May 30.

Nearly 19,000 renters had applied, but only 1,266 had been approved as of July 20. About $3.6 million remained to be given out.

“These funds are critical on many levels, but what is most important is being able to connect those who need financial assistance with those funds quickly and efficiently,” said Cynthia Zwick, who runs Wildfire, a nonprofit helping to administer rental assistance programs. “Too many people are on the edge of homelessness.”

The Governor’s Office says new funding should help the backlog.

Ducey announced he would dedicate $650,000 to increasing staffing to speed up the review of applications.

“We want to see these programs utilized to their fullest extent possible,” Ptak said, “and we want to see the dollars get out the door faster.”

Local governments also now offer rent help

Beyond the state rental assistance program, several of Arizona’s largest local governments — Maricopa County, Phoenix and Mesa — last week launched their own renter and mortgage aid programs using more than $50 million in federal CARES Act funding.

Find Complete Article Here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/economy/2020/07/23/4-steps-arizona-renters-must-take-by-aug-22-qualify-eviction-relief-covid-19/5479755002/

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