Court Data Finds Hundreds Of Arizonans Wrongfully Evicted At Start Of Pandemic

Published: Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 11:57am
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 1:49pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Imagine being removed from your home only to find out your landlord never had the right to file for eviction. Well, court data suggests that may have happened to hundreds of Arizonans in the first few months of the pandemic. And here to tell us more is KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young. Welcome.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG: Thanks for having me.

GOLDSTEIN: We know so many people have lost income because of the pandemic — they're struggling to pay rent. But I think we also heard about a lot of protections that were put in place to limit evictions. So what happened?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Right. There were a lot of protections. Here in Arizona, we had a statewide eviction moratorium in place March through October. There's also currently a nationwide ban on some evictions through the CDC, which will go through the end of the year. And then there were protections through the CARES Act. This expired back in July, but the CARES Act said a landlord couldn't evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent if that property was covered by a federally-backed mortgage.

GOLDSTEIN: And so have those protections been effective?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, they have dramatically reduced the number of evictions in Arizona over the last few months. In Maricopa County, there were about half as many eviction filings from February to July as there were during that time last year. But that's still about 16,000 evictions filed. So a group of tenant advocates took a look at a sampling of those cases, and they were paying attention to that period of time when the federal CARES Act eviction protections were supposed to be in place. And they found a percentage of these evictions happened on properties that did have federally-backed mortgages, which would suggest potentially hundreds of renters were removed from their homes when they should not have been under federal law. Pam Bridge is an attorney with Community Legal Services here in Phoenix, one of the groups that's looking at this issue.

PAM BRIDGE: I mean, these tenants might be homeless right now. And in the normal world, this would be an awful thing to happen. But in the middle of a pandemic, it's even worse.

GOLDSTEIN: So Katherine, these renters were evicted, even though the courts shouldn't have allowed that under the CARES Act rules? So how many people did this happen to?

DAVIS-YOUNG: That's still hard to say. It's a matter of looking at these cases one by one and trying to match cases to federal mortgages, which is not a simple process. But a group of tenant advocates a few months ago started reviewing thousands of these cases and brought the issue to the attention of the courts. Then Arizona's administrative office of the courts did its own review. That review estimates somewhere between 200 and 700 renters in Maricopa County may have been evicted illegally during the time when the CARES Act protections were in place.

GOLDSTEIN: OK, so what's going to happen next here for these renters?

DAVIS-YOUNG: That is a huge concern because evictions stay with you. If you have a record of eviction, it can be much harder to find housing in the future. So this is something that's really worth correcting if people were wrongfully removed from their homes. The state now has a task force of advocates and legal professionals who are looking into what might be the next steps to address this. But Pam Bridge with Community Legal Services says if you were evicted between March and July, it might be worth contacting a lawyer.

BRIDGE: Right now, we're basically telling everyone that if you received an eviction for nonpayment of rent during that time, it's worth checking out to see if your landlord had a federally subsidized mortgage.

GOLDSTEIN: Certainly a complicated issue. Unfortunately, one we're going to have to keep a close eye on. KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young, thank you.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thank you.

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