Arizona Landlords Got Grants, Filed Eviction Notices Anyway

By Jessica Boehm, Catherine Reagor & Ralph Chapoco | Arizona Republic

Arizona landlords who received money from a state program that aimed to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic filed nearly 2,500 eviction notices during the pandemic, an Arizona Republic investigation found.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office launched the Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund in August with $5 million to assist landlords whose tenants were not paying their rent during the COVID-19 crisis. The state added an additional $5 million to the fund in September after the initial funds quickly ran out.

A landlord who received almost $1 million from the property owner’s fund — the most of any landlord — filed for more than 350 evictions at apartment complexes across Maricopa County during the pandemic, The Republic found.

Another landlord filed for eviction on almost 30% of his tenants at a single Glendale apartment complex despite receiving $50,000 in assistance for the same property.

The Republic found that nearly half of the 633 Maricopa County properties that received assistance from the fund filed for evictions between March 24, 2020 — the day the first eviction moratorium took effect — and Dec. 31. An eviction filing signals an intent to evict but does not necessarily mean a tenant was evicted.

The state did not check to see if landlords had evicted tenants before awarding assistance — nor did it check to make sure landlords did not evict tenants after assistance was awarded, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Housing said.

Janelle Johnsen, the spokesperson, said judges and constables are responsible for determining whether evictions are lawful.

“We believe this program helped to prevent evictions by reducing the financial penalty for property owners who had tenants not paying rent,” she said.

The Arizona Rental Property Owner Preservation Fund differed from other rental assistance programs across the state because it allowed landlords to apply directly for aid instead of requiring tenants to apply.

The Arizona Department of Housing, which oversaw a $7 million aid program directed at renters, didn’t handle the landlord fund. It was run by the governor’s Economic Recovery Management Team, but Gov. Doug Ducey’s office would not comment. It referred all questions to the Department of Housing.

Johnsen said the main purpose of the program was to help landlords, but staff also believed the program would prevent evictions.

A number of eviction moratoriums have been enacted by the state and federal governments to shield tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning with one ordered by Ducey, which took effect on March 24.

Evictions fell significantly in Maricopa County during the pandemic, indicating that the vast majority of landlords stopped evicting. But some found ways around the moratorium.

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