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Landlord problems? Seek ASUA

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 23, 2003

For many around Tucson, Black Tuesday, 2003, occurred on August 26.

Nearly one month ago, a colossally intense desert thunderstorm tore through the Tucson basin, dropping more than an inch of rain in the university area. Pouring for nearly an hour, it did not take long to hear the sound of absolute horror.

Blink blink blink blink-blink.

From a 2-foot-long crack in the ceiling, water was dripping rapidly onto my desk and computer. In a moment of pure panic, I literally tore my computer from my wall and threw it onto my desk. It was not until later that night in the calm of the evening that I realized that the water had not only leaked from my roof, but enough had actually drained into my house to eat a near-continuous hole down the corner of my room.

All that was left was water in a bucket, a large puddle of plaster on my hardwood floor and the beginning of a mess that would lead me to the law.

Friday will officially be the one-month anniversary of my calling the landlord to tell him about substantial damage to my bedroom. Now it could be time to tighten the legal leash on the owner of my house.

Jessica Lee
associate editor

The weapon: Arizona state law.

More than 30,000 UA students live off campus. Many find themselves in situations where the owner or landlord either refuses to fix damages to the property or is slow to jump on the problem. Tenants have the right enforced by the Arizona Constitution to hold the owners of their houses accountable.

Under A.R.S. 33-1324, the law requires landlords to "comply with applicable building codes materially affecting health and safety" and "make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition." Those are only two provisions of the section.

It seemed to me that my landlord was in breach of the law.

Confused as to exactly what that entailed, I looked into what services were open to students. Funded by student fees, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona supports a student legal services program. The ASUA service is free to all students, and a licensed attorney is available Monday through Thursday to offer legal advice to those in need. As stated in ASUA's brochure, "the goal of the program is to provide students with access to an attorney and the legal system, and to help students achieve practical and legally sound solutions to their legal problems so that they can concentrate on their studies." The attorney cannot represent students in court, but can offer advice to set them down the legally logical road.

According to the brochure, students can contact the office before they break their lease, sue someone in small claims court, go to court for a traffic ticket or criminal citation, get an eviction notice, settle their auto accident claim with an insurance company or file divorce papers.

After weeks of calling and complaining to my landlord about the perilous condition of my room, it was time to seek legal counsel. I made an appointment with Susan Ferrell, the legal adviser for student legal services. Any currently enrolled student can make a half-hour appointment that will be kept strictly confidential.

Students in similar "my-house-is-falling-apart" situations: do not fret. You have three options besides just waiting until the landlord gets around to placating the problem.

The first is to write a letter that demands the landlord complete the maintenance in a minimum of 10 days as provided A.R.S. Section 33-1361, or as a tenant you have the right to terminate your lease. "It is a worse problem if you live in a place that you love, but the landlord doesn't keep it up," noted Ferrell, who knows that students sometimes feel they have to choose to move out due to a delinquent landlord.

Secondly, if the maintenance is less than a month's rest or $300, a student can take advantage of A.R.S. Section 33-1363, which states a tenant has the right to hire an outside licensed contractor to get the work done. The tenant must first give the landlord a 10-day notice, and if the place is not up to "fit and habitable conditions," the cost of hiring an outside contractor can be deducted from next month's rent.

If you do not want to move out or the cost of repair exceeds half-month's rent, students can write a letter filled with legal jargon in hopes it will light a fire under the landlord. The letter would basically state that the tenant is aware that the landlord is in violation of the state law, and that if they do not fix the problem in a timely manner, the tenant will report the landlord to the City of Tucson, specifically the Slum Landlord Abatement Team.

While only $3,500 of the ASUA budget supports the student legal services program, it clearly is a resource that students should tap into. Students should not feel timid about using the law to end landlord squabbles.

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