Apartment News - December 2013

Page 11

Arizona Multihousing Association

Is “No Reason,” Reason Enough? By Monique D. Young, Esq., Koglmeier Law Group, PLC


very so often, I come across landlords and managers that have just enough information to be dangerous. I, however, cannot fault or lay blame in the lap of the landlord when I am routinely trying to interpret and apply long and complex statutes which are applicable to the landlord/tenant arena. Nonetheless, one of the most dangerous examples I can provide of a landlord having just enough information to be dangerous is the statement, “I heard under Arizona law I do not need a reason to nonrenew a tenant.” Is this a true statement? Yes, under Arizona Landlord Tenant law, you do not need a reason to non-renew a tenant. However, under Federal and State Fair Housing laws, the answer is not the same. Indeed, under Federal and State Fair Housing laws, you may only non-renew tenants for legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reasons. The Federal and State Fair Housing investigators look at it this way: While you do not need a reason to non-renew a tenant, landlords typically renew good tenants. If this is true, then the opposite view

must be true that landlords only non-renew bad tenants for specific and objective reasons relating to lost profits or good will to the landlord’s business. Thus, while under Arizona Landlord Tenant law, you do not need to have a reason as to why you served a tenant a notice of non-renewal in a willful holdover case or to end the contractual relationship with the tenant—you do have reasons for non-renewing. And if the Arizona Civil Rights Division comes knocking on your door with a discrimination complaint, you will have to provide these reasons for non-renewal. To avoid fair housing liability, your non-renewal reasons must be nondiscriminatory, i.e. based on a legitimate nondiscriminatory business reason. And, no, I just don’t like them is not a legitimate business reason and neither is non-renewing a disabled tenant because it is too much work or hassle to house them. Accordingly, every non-renewal decision should be thought through in advance to ensure that it is based upon a legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reason. If you fail to think through the situation and just fall back on the old “I don’t need a reason” rationale because you just want a tenant out, you may have

a difficult time responding to a discrimination complaint. If you can’t articulate the reason at the time the notice of non-renewal goes out, how are you going to articulate them under pressure from the Arizona Civil Rights Division? In addition, you should be able to provide documentation or other comparable evidence to support the reasons to the Arizona Civil Rights Division for non-renewal. For instance, if you tell the investigator that you gave the Complainant (i.e., the tenant who filed the Fair Housing Act claim against you or your company) a notice of non-renewal for constant noise complaints, then you better be able to provide the investigator with proof of this. Proof includes eye witness accounts and statements, police reports and/or police citations for the Complainant, and notices or letters that the landlord wrote to the tenant about the excessive noise coming from the Complainant’s apartment. Finally, your non-renewal decision should be consistent, i.e., you would give any tenant who conducted themselves in the manner the Complainant conducted themselves on property a notice of non-renewal. And having proof that you have consistently nonrenewed other tenants who makes

excessive noise on property is strong proof that a landlord’s nonrenewal decision is based on a legitimate business reason. Just as, disparate treatment of similarly situated tenants is strong circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent. q Monique D. Young is an attorney with Koglmeier Law Group, PLC. She can be reached at 480-962-5353. The views expressed here are generalized advice or information. Fact-specific questions should always be referred to legal counsel. Statements and opinions expressed in these legal columns are solely those of the author or authors. This advice does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Arizona Multihousing Association.

3334 W. McDowell Rd. Ste. 20 Phoenix, AZ 85009 Office: (602)218-8813 Fax: (602)218-8611 Email: fandihvacaz@earthlink.net Apartment News • December 2013