Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace
It is that time of year in the greater Phoenix area. Most snowbirds have migrated north. The temperature is becoming toasty. Soon local news stations will begin doing stories about powerless tenants living in conditions of extreme heat and their heartless landlords. However, what is often missing from those stories is a discussion of tenant rights.
A tenant’s rights concerning a landlord’s failure to supply essential services are detailed in Arizona law at A.R.S. § 33-1364. Not surprisingly, the Arizona statute specifically lists “air conditioning or cooling” as an essential service.
If a landlord fails to provide running water, gas and/or electrical service, or fails to provide reasonable amounts of hot water, heat and/or cooling, then often tenants will try to get their landlord’s attention by not paying rent. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do and it is the most common mistake tenants make.
Yes, you will get your landlord’s attention. You will also likely get evicted for nonpayment of rent.
If a landlord is not providing essential services, their tenant may give notice to the landlord that he is in breach of the lease. Sample notices are available on the main justice court web page at:
After notice has been given, the tenant has three options. However, depending on the tenant’s circumstances and resources, some of these may not be realistic.
Option One: The tenant can arrange for utilities on his own and deduct the cost from the rent. With the utility company’s approval, a tenant group or group of tenants can pay a landlord’s delinquent utility bill and deduct that amount from their rent.
Option Two: The tenant can file suit and recover damages based on the decreased fair rental value of the residence.
Option Three: The tenant can find substitute housing (e.g. a motel) during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance. If this occurs, the tenant is excused from paying rent for as long as the landlord does not provide the essential service.
The bottom line is that after written notice has been given, the landlord has five days to fix the tenant’s air conditioner. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant can either break the lease and move out or get a motel until the air conditioning is fixed.
However, don’t expect a judge to believe a claim that the only room available was the Presidential Suite at the Desert Ridge JW Marriott. The language in the statute authorizes a tenant to “procure reasonable substitute housing during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance.”
Arizona’s residential landlord and tenant statutes and rules are balanced between the rights of both parties as long as the tenant keeps paying rent. Both sides must follow the law and both sides usually do.
Judge Gerald Williams is the presiding justice of the peace for the Northwest Regional Court Center. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.