Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a national ban on evictions and the Washington Post last week observed, “The feared eviction ‘tsunami’ has not yet happened.”
And while Mesa may not be seeing a tsunami, a growing wave of evictions is menacing renters in all parts of the city.
The West Mesa, East Mesa and North Mesa Maricopa County Justice Court calendars were filled with eviction cases this week.
Meanwhile, the city of Mesa’s Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program is struggling to keep up with a sharp increase in applications since the eviction moratorium ended last month.
Mesa Community Services Director Ruth Giese said 1,216 applications were received in August, nearly double the 757 received in July. Another 561 applications were received in the first two weeks of September.
“The turnaround time to process applications has increased due to the increase of applications received,” Brandon said.
She noted that once the $20 million ERAP limit is reached, “We will move right into the ERAP2 funding which is a total of $10.6 million for assistance.”
A city website said 3,126 households had received assistance through ERAP. The city received 5,561 applications as of Wednesday, with 606 rejected (208 were not Mesa residents and 83 did not meet income guidelines).
That leaves more than 1,800 “in process,” as judges are hearing landlord’s requests for eviction notices.
The wave of Mesa evictions comes as the Marciopa County Justice Court system saw "more evictions in September 2021 than in any other month of the pandemic," court spokesman Scott Davis said.
However, Davis said September fiolings were below pre-pandemic levels, underscoring "what we have been telling the media for several months: we do not expect to see that much-hyped 'tsnuami' of evictions."
In most evictions, landlords must file a request for judgment, stating how much a tenant owes and asking for permission to forcibly remove the nonpaying renter. When a judge rules in favor of the landlord, tenants have five days before landlords can request a constable to escort them and their belongings out of their apartments or rental homes.
Tuesday afternoon, the Tides on Country Club apartments alone had five cases before North Mesa Judge Kyle Jones.
When renters did not show up, Jones would say, “The court will go ahead and give judgment in this case.”
But several renters called into the conference proceedings to challenge landlord’s actions.
The judge asked one about rent she owed totaling $1,764.
“MesaCAN (the Mesa Community Action Network) and the city of Mesa is going to pay it,” the woman said.
Jones advised, “Go and work with the landlord….If you’re not able to get an agreement you have to vacate by Oct. 4.”
A woman who owes $1,815 told the judge, “I have reached out to MesaCAN. They did email me a statement today (saying) they received all the documents and there’s nothing further I would need to do and they would reach out to the landlord.”
Another renter who is $2,786 behind told Jones, “I have applied twice” for rental assistance. “I’m waiting for MesaCAN to re-evaluate my application.”
Yet another renter said, “I have applied with Mesa” for emergency rent assistance. “I was told to tell you it is being processed. Also due to COVID my work significantly slowed down, so I am currently seeking other employment.”
Another renter facing eviction said he was working with the city and was upset he was called before the court.
“Let me clarify how this acts,” the judge responded. “When it comes to eviction, there (are) two parts.”
Jones said the judgment centers on the dollar amount owed. “And then if you are unable to rectify or cure the judgment within a five-day window, the landlord has the option to file for a writ of execution...and have the renter removed.”
He noted that though they are not obliged to, landlords are typically “not removing renters from the property if they are getting rental assistance.”
The next renter facing eviction said she was in the same situation: “I called the (ERAP) program and was told they have 700 applications...and they’re so backed up but they’re working hard to get them all processed.”
Judge Keith Russell heard similar stories this week at East Mesa Justice Court.
As he did with all those facing eviction, Russell asked one woman why she had not paid the $3,000 she owes her landlord.
“Economic hardship,” the woman replied. “I’m working with the city of Mesa.”
Not all those with eviction cases seemed to be aware of Mesa’s ERAP program.
One woman who owes $2,291 said, “It’s a matter of catching up....I had two loans I had to take out on my truck when it broke down. It’s been a snowball effect.”
“I haven’t been able to get caught up because of COVID-19,” said another renter facing eviction.
At the West Mesa Justice Court earlier this week, a woman told Judge Elaissia Sears she applied for Mesa’s emergency rental assistance. “I was told they are 30 days behind,” she said.
City offers some tools to avoid eviction
The city of Mesa offers two tools to potentially avoid evictions.
Links to both are on the homepage of the city’s website, mesaaz.gov.
According to the website, “The Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (ERAP) was established in response to COVID pandemic financial impact to Mesa residents...The program provides financial assistance to households financially impacted by COVID for rent and utility assistance to prevent eviction and homelessness.”
Applications can be made online. For questions, call 480-644-5440 or email ERAPinfo@mesaaz.gov.
Documentation needed for successful applications includes:
Proof of income for all household members over the last 60 days.
Current Lease Agreement (all pages).
Current Utility Bill (City of Mesa utilities, SRP, and/or Southwest Gas).
Once renter applications are reviewed, the city reaches out to landlords, who also must complete forms to receive payments.
Mesaaz.gov also has a link to Community Legal Services.
Tenants who need legal advice or assistance can contact CLS and apply for services by calling 602-258-3434 or visiting clsaz.org.