Francesca Sutton was excited to move out of her apartment and into her first rental home in Mesa. She didn’t expect the scorpions.

“The first night that we moved in, my son noticed a scorpion in his bedroom, so he called me when I got off from work,” Sutton said. “Then the next day, I just started seeing them every day, every other day. This is not comfortable for me. I can’t live in a place like this.”

After living in the house some time, Sutton began to notice other issues, like low water pressure.

Sutton said when she contacted her landlord to fix the problems with her house, the landlord never followed through.

Tenant-landlord disputes are likely to grow. The housing crisis has led to more people in the U.S. renting than at any other time in recent history, according to the Pew Research Center. A decade ago, 34.6 million households were in rental properties. In 2016, there were 43.3 million rental households.

The system in Arizona moves slowly and inefficiently whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, those on both sides say. The Arizona Residential Tenant and Landlord Act outlines basic regulations. Phoenix and Tempe are among cities with codes that set more detailed conditions landlords must meet, such as a clean property, regular pool maintenance and minimum water temperatures.

But no local or state government agency enforces those regulations. The lack of accountability and a labyrinthian set of regulations leaves tenants and landlords dangling and can end up in court, advocates said.

The Arizona Department of Housing, which created the 44-page document, considers landlord-tenant relations “a private matter,” according to its website.

Several other states, including Tennessee, allow renters to file complaints with the county public health department or a local building inspector.

Kathy Hertzog, president and chief executive of LandlordAssociation.org, said pursuing a civil case is not a good process for landlords or tenants.

“Having to hire an attorney and go to court, it’s an expensive and time-consuming process,” Hertzog said. “It’s a delicate and fine line you have to walk along. Will it be worth your while or not?”

Ken Volk, who founded the nonprofit group Arizona Tenants Advocates, said most people lack the knowledge, time or money to take on their landlord.

“Most people think you’re going to complain about conditions and that’s it,” Volk said. “But in reality, that not necessarily a part of how you would proceed. It’s not really a procedure for the squeamish.”

Some of the most vulnerable people are renters. Pew research shows the majority of people renting in the U.S. are younger than 35. Hispanics, African Americans and the least educated are most likely to rent.

Hertzog said bad landlords prey on people who are poor.

“In the really poor, underdeveloped areas there’s more bad landlords because they don’t want to put the money into” their properties, she said. Such landlords think people will not take care of their housing just because they are poor, so the landlords don’t take care of the property, she said.

“It’s kind of a sad perception,” Hertzog said. “Everyone has the right to decent housing.”

Advocacy groups like the Arizona Tenants Union and Volks’ organization, which he launched in 1993, advise tenants of their rights.

Volk said when tenants understand their leases, they know when they have the legal right to break them.

Sutton, the tenant plagued with the scorpion problem, said Volk helped her feel confident she was legally in the right to break the lease. If the dispute goes to court, Sutton said she feels prepared.

“I have a good reason to break the lease,” said Sutton, whose landlord did not return phone calls and emails. “I have pictures and documentation, so I’m just waiting to see what has happens next.”

(2) comments

Elisabeth Culley

The City of Tempe's unwillingness to use the full force of rules, regulations, and fines that are at its disposal to enforce health and safety codes in rental properties even when tenants to call for inspections is evidenced in the *hundreds* of outstanding code violations attributable to 1-3 landlords. The State's unwillingness to write provisions into the Landlord Tenant Act that would afford renters' relief from slumlords without costing them thousands of dollars and high risk of loss in the court systems is appalling. The rate at which renters lose their court cases defies statistics. Arizona, at all levels of government, enables and is thus equally responsible for the horrible and unsafe conditions imposed on the State's renters, including infants and children. My question for the media: when are you going to help solve this problem? This is at least the 5th superficial, short, overview story of poor rental conditions in the Valley that I have read sense moving here a decade ago. And yet, I have never seen a follow-up news story detailing the actual conditions that people are forced to live in, giving real life examples of the loop-holes that slumlords use to avoid keeping their properties up to code and avoid paying fines for their violations, and actually NAMING NAMES of those slumlords based on public records research that journalists are supposed to excel at and are paid to do. You have power to wield to affect change and you sit by clearly aware of the problem and not following through. Shame on you.

Noo Slum

having move to Arizona from California. I must say the support for renters is sad, when it comes to the "slum lords" owners. exspecially in Tempe. the owner wright of many property called rental tempe' thrives off of poor low income people. I pray GOD will take all his property and give it to someone that will be fair and treat people right. also I have no doubt he is racist. he puts minorities in certain areas.

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