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EXPLANATION OF WHY CITIES HAVE ENACTED RENTAL CODES, AND SOME EXAMPLES OF ADOPTED STANDARDS

As a general rule, under current law the State does not set specific rental housing standards. In A.R.S. § 33-1324, keywords and phrases are: fit, habitable, reasonable, appropriate, clean, safe, and working order and condition. Likewise, A.R.S. § 9-1303 in large part cites indefinite mandates by way of terms such as: inadequate, insufficient, deteriorated, hazardous, faulty, defective, unsanitary, unhealthy and improper. However, the laws frequently defer to what is required by building codes.

Traditionally, a “political subdivision” may prescribe greater specificity than the State, so long as it does not contradict or supersede a State mandate. HB 2115 will abolish that (caveat: if a real grandfather clause were to be added, rental standards enacted prior to 2019 would be excepted). Lawmakers behind HB 2115 claim that its purpose is to establish uniformity, but really the intent is to constrain localities from compelling landlords to maintain their properties as responsible members of the communities.

Arizona’s first specific rental housing was in Tempe, created in the 1990s. I have been a renters advocate since 1993, and in the mid-1990s many apartment complexes had become so deteriorated that they posed a threat to the overall community.

At my invitation the Mayor, council members, police and staff conducted a tour of selected apartment complexes. They were so alarmed at observed conditions that they set about with the creation of a code to combat the degradation. I sat on the city committee to propose, review and recommend Tempe’s standards.

Although the landlord lobbyists also had a seat at the table, they mounted a vicious legal campaign to halt the code’s imposition. The landlords failed, and Tempe’s rental code established a paradigm next followed by Glendale and, over time, all the other municipalities identified above. Arising from this, rental housing matters became a hot-button issue statewide, garnering constant newspaper headlines. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and Phoenix councilmember Phil Gordon jumped on the bandwagon, resulting in Arizona’s 1999 slumlord statutes, A.R.S. § 33-1901 et seq.

As noted previously, the rental codes cover a range of issues, depending on community needs. Sometimes they are integrated into their general housing requirements, and other times they are discrete codes. Here is a sampling of some matters covered by various codes:

Hot water

Tempe 110˚ F. Sect. 21-31(e)

Glendale 110˚ F. Sect. 29.1-11(c)

Water flow

Tempe 1 gallon/minute Sect. 21-31(g)

Cooling

Phoenix 82˚ F. if air conditioner and installation required Sect. 39-5(b)

Phoenix 86˚ F. if evaporative cooler and installation required Sect. 39-5(b)

Tempe 82˚ F. if air conditioner and installation required Sect. 21-34(c)

Tempe 88˚ F. if evaporative cooler and installation required Sect. 21-34(c)

Tucson/South Tucson 80˚ F. if mechanical cooling when outside 105˚ F.+ Sect. 16-11(B)(2)/Sect. 7-11(B)(2)

Tucson/South Tucson 88˚ F. if alternative cooling Sect. 16-11(B)(2)/Sect. 7-11(B)(2) Heating

Glendale 70˚ F. and installation required removal prohibited Sect. 29.1-15(b)

Tempe 70˚ F. Sect. 21-34(b)

Phoenix 70˚ F. and installation required Sect. 39-5(a)

Tucson/South Tucson 70˚ F. Sect. 16-11(B)(1)/Sect. 7-11(B)(1)

Combustion heat prohibited

Tempe Sect. 21-34(d)

Phoenix Sect. 39-5(c)

Kitchen required

Glendale, or kitchen area Sect. 29.1-13 (a)

Tempe, with sink Sect. 21-32(a)

Tucson/South Tucson, with sink Sect. 16-11(G)(3)/Sect. 7-11(G)(3)

Refrigerator required

Glendale, supplied by either landlord or tenant Sect. 29-1-13(b)

Tempe, must maintain 40˚-45˚ F. Sect. 21-32(f)

Stove/range required

Glendale Sect. 29.1-13(b)

Tempe Sect. 21-32(e)

Foliage restriction

Youngtown, prohibits planting, offering, selling Olive and male Mulberry trees Sect. 8.32.040(K)

Minimum ceiling height

Tucson/South Tucson, 7 feet+ Sect. 16-11(I)/Sect. 7-11(I)

Visible address

Tucson/South Tucson, with multiple requirements Sect. 16-12/Sect. 7-12

Door viewer required

Tempe, having 160˚ view, unless door has windows Sect. 21-37(g)

Windows must lock

Tempe Sect. 21-37(n)

Pool water cleanliness

Phoenix, must be clean enough for a 200 mm. secchi disk placed at the bottom of the pool at its deepest point to be visible to a person on the pool deck Sect. 39-7(c)

Bathroom access

Tempe, for each bedroom access must not be through another bedroom Sect. 21-36

Vegetation care

Glendale, grass & weeds maximum 6 inches Sect. 29.1-21

Tucson/South Tucson, grass maximum 6 inches, weeds maximum 10 inches, accumulation no more than 24 hours, remove weeds & refuse, no burning refuse; composting permitted Sect. 16-13/Sect. 7-13

Exterior pest control

Glendale Sect. 29.1-21(j)

Pool barrier required

South Tucson, 5 feet high Sect. 7-13(G)

Arcadia door lock

Tempe, must lock to prevent exterior access Sect. 21-37(f)(2)

And there is so much more!

Municipalities have varying concerns, which is why their codes are so different. For example, air-cooling is paramount for the Phoenix valley, but Flagstaff would conceivably focus on cold weather factors, such as snow removal. In that vein, situations crop up that affect only one or two towns or cities (e.g. as shown above, minimum ceiling height in Tucson). In such instance it would be pointless, if not counterproductive, for the State to impose statewide standards of limited applicability. And, again, no doubt the landlords would be up in arms in vehement opposition to same. HB 2115 would wrongfully prevent localities from addressing their particular concerns, to the public detriment.

 

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