Act fast: Options for when you can’t pay your rent

Judge Gerald A. Williams

North Valley Justice of the Peace

Almost everyone is a job loss plus an unexpected bill away from facing an eviction action, so what do you do if one or both of these things happen? There are some options, but the key is to act quickly.  Bad news seldom improves with the passage of time.  

Most rent is due on the first of each month. If you know you won’t be able to pay it, let your landlord know before it is due. Perhaps your landlord will accept a partial payment; however, the initial reaction may be negative. Why? Landlords have been trained not to accept partial payments. They know that accepting less than what is due means that they cannot start an eviction until the following month.

There is an exception. Under Arizona law, if a tenant and a landlord sign a partial payment non-waiver agreement, then the landlord can accept a partial payment without penalty. A.R.S. § 33-1371. Most property management offices have these forms available. If not, a law firm that represents landlords has a form available for free at http://www.h3landlordlaw.com/documents

If a partial payment agreement won’t work, for whatever reason, the tenant still has some time.  Prior to filing an eviction action in court, a landlord must give the tenant a five-day notice. This notice must: (1) state the amount of any unpaid rent and any other amount due; (2) notify the tenant of the landlord’s intent to terminate the lease if the amount due is not received within five days after the notice is given to the tenant and (3) inform the tenant that if the amount due is not paid, that the tenant must then surrender possession of the residence. 

Arizona is a “pay and stay” jurisdiction. The tenant can pay all of the rent and any late fees any time before the lawsuit is filed and avoid eviction. If the eviction action has been filed in court, the tenant must pay all past due rent, late fees, attorney’s fees and court costs.If the tenant does so before a judgment is entered, eviction for nonpayment of rent will be avoided. The case will be dismissed. However, after a judgment has been entered, reinstatement of the lease is solely in the landlord’s discretion.

Both the City of Phoenix and the City of Glendale have offices that can help with emergency rental assistance. The Salvation Army does as well. The key is to apply for help as soon as you know you need it because residential evictions in Arizona move very quickly.

Although it is nobody’s first choice, another option is for the tenant to move out and to return the keys during the five-day notice period. The tenant will still owe whatever amount is due; but the landlord won’t be able to successfully file an eviction case. This can be significant because it keeps the tenant from having an eviction judgment on their record.    

Many people cannot pay their rent for reasons that are not their fault. However, the likelihood that the tenant can continue to stay in the residence may be dependent upon how quickly they made the landlord aware of the problem.   

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