High court denies eviction ban appeal The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

High court denies eviction ban appeal

High court denies eviction ban appeal

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

The state’s high court won’t overturn the order by Gov. Doug Ducey blocking residential evictions.

In a brief order last week, the justices spurned a request by the Arizona Multihousing Association to determine if the governor could legally stop landlords from ousting tenants who have not been paying their rent because of COVID-19.

The ruling does not resolve the
legal claims by the landlord group about the scope of the governor’s emergency powers.

That would take a full-blown trial, something that could take weeks, if not months. In fact, that’s exactly what the order signed by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel suggested.

But it does mean that Ducey’s order, originally issued in March, will remain undisturbed through at least the end of October when it is scheduled to expire – assuming the governor does not extend it as he did in July.

Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president of the landlord group, pronounced herself “shocked and disappointed’’ that the high court won’t hear the case.

She said the ruling will have consequences not only for those who own rental properties but for the whole economy.

“We can fully expect to see a rental home foreclosure avalanche in the months to come, or certainly in the beginning of 2021,” LeVinus said.

The only relief, she said, could come from $100 million that is supposed to be used for eviction relief. But LeVinus said only about $18 million has actually been distributed since the pandemic began.

There was no immediate comment from the governor on either the order or whether he intends to let it expire as scheduled at the end of the month.

But even if the justices had taken up the case and overruled the governor, it would have had no immediate effect. Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its own anti-eviction order which runs through the end of the year.

The landlords claim the governor lacks the constitutional authority to tell constables around the state not to process eviction orders, even those issued legally by judges.

They also contend that the gubernatorial directive is violating both the property rights of landowners as well as their right to enter into contracts.

In seeking review, the landlords acknowledged that the governor can exercise certain powers in a public health emergency but said unilaterally barring landlords from enforcing the terms of lawful lease agreements created “an indefinite economic welfare and redistribution program, rather than a public health measure to contain the COVID-19 contagion.’’

The way the landlords figure it, by the time the order expires – assuming it is not renewed – it will have been 221 days that tenants have not had to pay rent.

Economist Elliott Pollack, in a study done for the Arizona Multihousing Association, figures that if just 1 percent of the more than 919,000 Arizona households who rent did not make payments over a seven-month period that means a loss of more than $67.7 million.

Take that rent-withholding figure to 15 percent, he said, and the foregone revenues top $1 billion.

Pollack said there also is a ripple effect as landlords cannot pay their employees, contractors and suppliers.

But the issue before the court dealt only with the legal questions.

Ducey said there is a direct link between his order and public health.

“The fight against evictions is key in slowing the spread of the virus,’’ wrote Brett Johnson, the private attorney retained by the governor to defend him in all the litigation over the COVID-19 restrictions he has imposed.

“The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that homeless shelters are often crowded, making social distancing difficult, and that homeless can exacerbate and amplify the spread of COVID-19.’’

In a hearing earlier this year on a separate challenge to the governor’s order, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury the evidence “demonstrates reality that Arizona leaders and the general population perceived COVID-19 to be an emergent problem and a virus to which swift and urgent attention was required.’’

The lawyers in that case are seeking review by the state Court of Appeals. But they also asked the Supreme Court to bypass that step and consider the case now, something the justices refused to do. ′

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