Curbing evictions in Pima County

Knowing your rights as a renter

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Keeping people in their homes and apartments is not as easy at it may seem.

In Pima County Over the last four years, 50,000 people have been kicked out of their homes and those are just the ones that made it to court. Last year alone, more than 13,000 evictions were filed and according to local leaders a lack of affordable housing is making the problem worse.

It was a phrase heard over and over while discussing evictions and the ripple effect it has on person's life - without a home a person is far more likely to lose their job.

The city is trying to help figure out a way to stop that. Beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, community leaders will be coming together at the Main Library downtown to let tenants know their rights and to discuss how to improve affordable housing options in Pima County.

"My world got turne upside down when I was evicted," said Sandra Munoz, a former evicted tenant. "It was really hard and it was scary."

Several years ago health issues forced her home from work, she and her three kids were forced out when new management took over the apartment complex.

"They didn't want to work with me. I got evicted," said Munoz, who was then forced to move her family into one-bedroom with an aunt and cousin.

"If I had known what I could have done and what my rights were, I could probably have stayed," she said.

Knowing those rights is what she is hoping those who attend Thursday night's panel discussion learn.

Landlords, city leaders and tenants will come together to talk solutions to Tucson's affordable housing situation.

"Many people may not even realize how serious the eviction problem is," said Bonnie Bazzata, the End Poverty Now Program manager in Pima County. "We have families coming in all the time, desperate, seeking resources."

Her goal for the panel is that every side's voice be heard.

“Landlords who are really looking at this realize that its not to their advantage either that its expensive every time they lost a tenant,” Bazzata said.

Panel member Stacey Butler, Director, Innovation For Justice UA Law is hoping that the panel will give everyone a chance to know their rights and resources available and to know that they aren't alone.

"Imagine trying to go to your job and get any work done," said Butler. "When you don't have a home to return to."

She and her organization, Step up to Justice, work as a free legal center for low income individuals.

“We’re not going to have any policy level changes if people don’t know what a big problem it (eviction) is,” said Butler, who also stated that Arizona isn’t a very tenant friendly state.

Butler said there are a lot of rapid and rigid eviction processes and hoops tenants have to jump through to document if they have an issue with their unit.

She said tenants don’t have a margin of error here in Arizona. But to help ease that, she suggests they should be taking their time to read what they are signing and ask plenty of questions.

But Butler also brought up that landlords could share some of the responsibility by breaking down the legal jargon that can be confusing.

“So making that information really palatable and digestible, meeting tenants where they’re at and how we offer it and make it available. I think those are all strategies we should be looking at." said Butler.

There are going to be workshops put on by Step up to Justice for tenants this summer. They will have volunteer attorneys and students available to help understand tenant rights and responsibilities.

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