Home renters at risk of losing rights

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

PHOENIX -- From the front porch to the backyard barbecue, Jenny and Jacob Maynes are living their version of the American dream. They hope to own a home one day, but for now they say renting is more convenient.

“Renting for us just seems easier, especially because everything gets taken care of for us if something breaks,” she said.

Currently, if renters like Jenny and Jacob need something like the pool fixed, landlords are required by state law to give two days notice before they enter an occupied rental home.

But that could change under a proposed bill, House Bill 2129.

The bill would mean when tenants file a maintenance request, the landlord can enter their home at anytime, even if no one is home.

Jenny said she always gets a two-day notice before her landlord comes over and the thought of someone entering her home unannounced at any time doesn't sit well.

“That would definitely be a big problem,” she said. “There's definitely no privacy that way.”

Ellen Katz is with the William E. Morris Institute for Justice. It’s a nonprofit group that opposes House Bill 2129 and two other bills that will change Arizona's long-standing Landlord Tenant Law.

One of the other bills, House Bill 2128 would give landlords more discretion in determining whether a home has been abandoned. The law adds two new situations where the landlord can claim the unit is abandoned. One situation allows the landlord to enter a tenant’s residence and see if the tenant is living there with no notice to the tenant and in situations where no rent is owed and the tenant has been seen at the unit. If the landlord decides that there is nothing of “material value” in the home, the landlord can remove the tenant’s property and take control of the unit. Katz believes the bill could be abused by landlords.

"The landlord may think it's not of material value, but that could be everything the tenant owns," she said.

The third bill, House Bill 2200, deals with tenants who want to fight an eviction. It changes the law and requires that the tenant pay to be allowed to remain in the unit pending an appeal. Currently, the tenant must pay the rent from the date of judgment while the appeal is pending. Katz said the change will make it less likely that tenants will file appeals because if a tenant has to move to another residence and change their children’s schools, they are less likely to continue with an appeal.

While each of the bills maintain landlords can't abuse their rights, Katz said passing them opens the door to potential abuse.

“In each of these instances, tenants lose out, tenants lose current rights,” Katz said.

Republican state Rep. Steve Urie of Gilbert sponsored the bills. He also owns a property management company and is a landlord.

Urie refused to talk to 3 On Your Side about the bills, but during a recent public hearing he and other supporters argued theywould make their jobs easier.

But Jenny and Jacob remain concerned.

“Just because I rent here, I still pay a good amount of money every month to live here comfortably, and I don't want people walking in my house whenever they can,” Jenny said. “That’s crazy.”

HB 2129 has been sent to Gov. Jan Brewer and is awaiting her approval or veto. The public can still express support or disapproval for the bill by contacting her office.

HB 2128 and HB 2200 have passed in the state House so the next step is for them to be voted on in the state Senate. The public can contact their state senators to comment.