Arizona Legislation Would Empower Landlords to Boot Guests

Say you're in a relationship, and things are going well. Your boyfriend is staying night after night until, before you know it, he's pretty much moved in. Life is bliss, except for one thing: Your landlord doesn't like Prince Charming.

Is this a problem?

Critics of a bill zipping through the Arizona Legislature say it could be.

Senate Bill 1185, sponsored by Senator Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), would give landlords the power to use police force to immediately remove anyone from their property who is not named in a written lease regardless of how long they have stayed, any oral agreements they have, or whether they are paying rent.

A similar proposal, introduced as Senate Bill 1372, passed the Senate with a 21-9 vote March 5, but failed in committee before making it to a general vote in the House. Griffin slipped a revised bill into the shell of SB 1185, which originally addressed wolf recovery, as a "strike everything" amendment last week. It could be debated on the House floor as early as Monday.

Griffin, in a House Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday, said she developed the bill after a constituent complained that police had declined to help him evict an unwanted guest. The man, who was renting an apartment, had allowed a friend to stay with him temporarily, but eventually decided it was time for the guest to move on. The guest refused to leave, so the tenant called law enforcement for help.

"Law enforcement said, 'We can't remove him,'" Griffin said. "Since you allowed him to stay originally, he has now taken up residency."

Ellen Katz, the litigation director for the Phoenix-based William E. Morris Institute for Justice, called the bill an "overly broad overreaction." She argues that the proposal infringes on people's "right to associate" and could enable landlords to hide discriminatory motives. The language is so loose, she said, that even short-term guests, such as family, friends, or domestic help, could be forcibly booted without explanation.

"The situation that started all this was between a tenant and the guest, but this bill gives more power to the landlord," she told New Times. "A landlord could call the police even if the tenant wants the guest to stay."

Griffin, who is a real estate broker, confirmed that the landlord could kick guests out at will -- regardless of the tenant's feelings on the matter. However, she said she didn't believe landlords would use the regulation against "somebody over for Thanksgiving dinner."

When it comes to long-term guests, she pointed out that many leases already stipulate the number of days guests are allowed to stay without landlord approval. SB 1185 would just require the additional step of adding a guest's name to the written lease.

"It shouldn't be a problem," she said.

Katz contends, though, that there are already legal measures in place to deal with unpleasant, or unwelcome guests. Under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, a tenant is responsible for the actions of their guests. If a guest violates lease rules by, for example, staying longer than they have been permitted, the landlord can serve an eviction notice. If a tenant wishes a guest to leave, he or she can file for an eviction order in court. The police may evict guests who stay longer than expressly authorized in a lease contract.

The biggest difference between the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, and SB 1185, is that Griffin's proposal doesn't require landlords or tenants to warn guests prior to eviction.

"This bill basically short-circuits the eviction process," Katz said. "It creates way more problems than it solves."

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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart