Tenants should never ‘rent strike’

By Judge Gerald A. Williams

North Valley Justice of the Peace

There have been some stories recently about an alleged “eviction epidemic” in Maricopa County.  Some of these stories imply that Arizona’s landlord and tenant laws are structured to be unfair to tenants. 

While it is true that residential landlords win almost every eviction case, they do so in large part either because tenants do not understand their rights or because the vast majority of tenants don’t show up for court. 

Many tenants cannot pay their rent for reasons that are not their fault. However, that does not mean that they get to live in someone’s else’s property rent free.

Perhaps the most common mistake that tenants make comes from a belief that they can rent strike. In Arizona, tenants may not withhold rent unless expressly allowed to do so by statute.

If there is a problem with the residence, the tenant cannot simply stop paying rent. Instead, the tenant must first give the landlord an opportunity to fix the problem.

For minor repair issues, if a landlord fails to make repairs, the tenant can notify the landlord of his intention to repair the problem at the landlord’s expense (A.R.S. § 33-1363). 

If the landlord does not fix the problem within ten days from receiving the notice, the tenant can hire a licensed contractor, submit a repair bill to the landlord and deduct the cost of the work from his rent.

For something that qualifies as an essential service, the tenant has several options; but many of them are not realistic. 

The tenant’s best option may be to give a five-day cure notice to the landlord and if necessary, find substitute housing, like a motel, during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance (A.R.S. § 33-1361(A)); (A.R.S. § 33-1364(A)(3)).

Sample notices for both major and minor repairs are available in the Eviction Actions section of the Maricopa County Justice Courts’ web page.  Also, there is a sample letter that tenants may use to request a return of their security deposit.  pportunity to repair the problem.

For minor repair issues, if a landlord fails to make repairs, the tenant can notify the landlord of his or her intention to repair the problem at the landlord’s expense. A.R.S. § 33-1363. If the landlord does not fix the problem within ten days from receiving the notice, the tenant can hire a licensed contractor, submit a repair bill to the landlord, and deduct the cost of the work from his or her rent.

For something that qualifies as an essential service (e.g. running water, gas and/or electrical service, reasonable amounts of hot water, heat and/or air conditioning) the tenant has several options; but many of them are not realistic. The tenant’s best option may be to give a five-day cure notice to the landlord and if necessary, find substitute housing, like a motel, during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance. A.R.S. § 33-1361(A); A.R.S. § 33-1364(A)(3).

Sample notices for both major and minor repairs are on the Maricopa County Justice Courts’ web page.  Also there is a sample letter for tenants to request the return of their security deposit.  

If someone tells you that you can “get your landlord’s attention” if you stop paying your rent, then they are giving you bad legal advice.  You will for sure get your landlord’s attention, but you almost might get evicted for nonpayment of rent.   

Judge Gerald Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court.  His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.