I recently had a client call me with an emergency request for help. She was getting evicted and a hearing was set in just a few days’ time. She is a single mom with three kids at home, surviving on one income. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew what was happening wasn’t right and she couldn’t afford to move. Once we talked and I got a chance to review her evidence it became clear that her landlord and property management company were not treating her right.
One of the air conditioning units in her two-story rental was not working and the temperatures in her home were climbing above 90. When she notified the landlord of the problem, she was ignored. Finally, she fixed the problem herself by having the A/C repaired. She approached her landlord about deducting he cost of the repairs from her rent, but the landlord had another idea: eviction.
Thankfully, once I got involved we were able to set things right. She got to stay in her house and she got credit for the repairs done. But this case was a perfect example of how the unwary can be taken advantage of by the unscrupulous and showcases the value of an attorney for just those types of situations.
In Arizona we have the Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act (ARLTA) which establishes the rights, remedies, and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. Today I want to share with you three important tips that will help keep you out of trouble if you find yourself in a situation like my client.
- What kind of responsibilities does a landlord have with regard to a rental property?
Every landlord has a duty to maintain a “fit premises”. A.R.S. 33-1324 has an extensive list of what a landlord must do. A few of the big ones are ensuring that the property complies with applicable health and safety building codes, making all necessary repairs to keep the property in a fit and habitable condition, and maintaining keeping and keeping the common areas of the premises clean and safe.
But that isn’t all. A landlord also has to provide running water, reasonable amounts of hot water, and reasonable heat and air-conditioning. Summer in Arizona is dangerous. So, if that A/C breaks down, it is best for them to get it fixed ASAP.
For you landlords out there, it’s going to be your job to fix something when it breaks if it is covered under this statute. A landlord and a tenant can agree that the tenant take responsibility for some of the repairs and maintenance, but it has to be in writing and it has to comply with the requirements of A.R.S. 33-1224.
- If my landlord won’t fix it, can I?
First, check the ARLTA to see if it is the landlord’s responsibility. If it is, then give them notice, in writing, that the repair needs to be done. At that point several options are available to you. Under A.R.S. 33-1363 If it is a minor defect you may simply be able to fix it then deduct the cost from your rent up to ½ of the monthly rent. But, you need to wait ten days to affect the repair, unless it is an emergency situation. Oh, and keep the receipt along with proof that the contractor who did the repair has been paid in full and wasn’t working on a lien.
Under A.R.S. 33-1364, if a landlord wrongfully fails to provide heat, air conditioning, water, or other essential services, you may be able procure temporary services and deduct the cost from your rent, recover damages based on the diminished value of the rental property, or even stop paying rent and find temporary substitute housing – which the landlord might be on the hook to pay you for. Always remember to document everything in writing and give proper notice!
- That’s it! I’m out of here!
Many people don’t realize that the ARLTA allows for a tenant to completely cancel a rental contract under certain circumstances. Under A.R.S. 33-1361, if there is a material noncompliance with the rental agreement by the landlord a tenant can give written notice of the breach to the landlord and inform them that the rental agreement will terminate ten days after receipt of the letter if the problems aren’t fixed. If the landlord is not in compliance with their responsibilities under A.R.S. 33-1324, as we discussed above, and it materially affects health and safety (think air conditioning during Summer), then the tenant can give a written notice detailing the noncompliance notifying the landlord that the agreement will terminate in five days if not remedied.
I know what you’re wondering: No, the landlord does not get to keep your security deposit under these circumstances.
These are just a few tips and a small sampling of the rights, responsibilities, and options available to you under the ARLTA. If you find yourself in a situation like my client, or if you aren’t sure what your situation is, exactly, please contact us immediately – we are here to help.