Arizonans renters affected by COVID-19 will not be in danger of being put out on the street, at least through July 23.
Gov. Doug Ducey last week barred police officers and constables from executing eviction orders.
Aided by the $2-trillion federal bill passed last week, Arizona has set up programs to help businesses – many of whom have to pay rent today, April 1. Ducey also has persuaded banks and mortgage companies to suspend foreclosures for at least 60 days.
Under Ducey’s rent order, relief will be available to anyone who is required to be quarantined based on a diagnosis of COVID-19 or has been ordered to self-quarantine by a licensed medical professional.
Evictions also can be avoided if someone else living there is diagnosed with the virus or if they have some condition “that makes them more at risk for COVID-19 than the average person.’’
Evictions also are precluded for anyone who suffers a “substantial loss of income’’ linked to the virus, ranging from job loss, a cutback in wages, closure of their place of employment or an obligation to be absent from work to care for a home-bound school-age child.
The relief is not automatic. Tenants must notify the property owner or landlord in writing and provide supporting documentation. And they also must acknowledge that they remain bound by the terms of the lease. Help is at housing.az.gov.
The order does allow evictions if a judge determines that it is necessary “in the interest of justice’’ or if a tenant is being evicted for lying on a lease agreement about everything from pets and employment to a criminal conviction.
Tenants who are still in arrears on July 23 would be subject to eviction. Press aide Patrick Ptak said there is the opportunity to “reevaluate’’ it before then.
The move is getting a skeptical response from the Arizona Multihousing Association, made up of landlords of multi-family units.
“Obviously we want help for residents,’’ Courtney LeVinus, the organization’s president, told Capitol Media Services.
“We recognize that our residents are struggling right now,’’ she continued.
But LeVinus said it’s not as simple as telling landlords they can’t collect rents.
“This needs to be a comprehensive solution,’’ she said. “We also need support for residential building owners or we’re simply shifting the burden from one group to another.”
In a prepared statement, the governor defended the move. “Nobody should be forced out of their home because of COVID-19,’’ he said.
“This order is about protecting public health and providing relief to families impacted by this virus, whether through sickness or economic hardship,’’ the governor continued. “This is the right thing to do to support Arizona families during their time of need and prevent the spread of COVID-19.’’
In a press release, aides to the governor cited the decision of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend evictions for HUD-financed properties. And they said that the Federal Housing Finance Agency directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which purchases mortgages from lenders, to suspend foreclosure and evictions for at least 60 days.
Ptak provided no answer to questions of how landlords, deprived of rental income, will pay their day-to-day expenses. But he said landlords may be able to get some financial help, at least from what they owe on the properties.
“Our office is working with banks on options to provide mortgage relief,’’ he said in a prepared statement.
“Many banks have taken action to do this already, such as Bank of America,’’ Ptak continued. “They are letting customers request to defer payments on mortgages and issuing a forbearance on foreclosures.’’
LeVinus said the association board last week put out an email “encouraging’’ landlords to work with residents on a case-by-case basis to deal with financial problems. LeVinus said that includes accepting partial payments, waiving late fees and set up payment plans.
Justice courts in Maricopa County have delayed eviction hearings until at least early April.
LeVinus said her organization has not studied whether the governor has the legal power to do what he did.
Arizona Supreme Court spokesman Aaron Nash said that Ducey, as the state’s chief executive, has authority over executive branch employees. Nash said that includes constables.
Actual eviction orders have to come from justices of the peace. And Nash said it is up to each of them to decide which eviction complaints they want to handle and how quickly they want to handle them.
Renters aside, the governor’s office said the Arizona Department of Housing offers assistance to people struggling to make mortgage payments.
The agency’s Save Our Home AZ program allows them to seek a reduction in the amount owed, mortgage subsidy assistance for those who are unemployed or underemployed, and assistance in eliminating second liens on homes.