Proposed law could fix some problems when tenants abandon animals

Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace
Some tenants, through no fault of their own, cannot pay their rent.  Some move.  Some face an eviction action.  Some, tragically, leave their pets behind. 

Senate Bill 1376 is currently working its way through the Arizona Legislature.  It proposes some significant changes to the abandoned property sections of Arizona landlord and tenant law.

Under current law, when a tenant moves without taking all of their stuff, the landlord’s only options are to hold it, store it, move it or sell it.  While these options may work for a table, they provide poor choices for dogs and for cats.  Some property managers, although they may not have clear legal authority to do so, take abandoned pets home with them for the statutory period of 21 days.  It is not as if they can simply leave pets in partially vacant apartments to fend for themselves. 

If the proposed law is adopted, landlords would not be required to store a tenant’s abandoned plants, perishable items, or animals.  The landlord would have the option of immediately removing and releasing any animals either to a shelter or to a boarding facility.  A landlord would also have the option of notifying an animal control officer.  So what if the tenant leaves behind bed bugs?

Common sense dictates that a landlord should not be required to store abandoned furniture if it is infested with bed bugs.  The new law would also allow the landlord the ability to dispose of anything considered to be a biohazard or considered to pose a health and safety risk.  The proposed legislation does some other things as well.                          

If a tenant breaks their lease by moving out on their own, current law requires that the landlord hold their abandoned personal property for 10 days; if they are evicted, then that time period is 21 days.  The new law would set the time period for both situations at 14 days.  Some tenants’ rights advocates are opposed to this portion of the bill. 

Senate Bill 1376 also gives the landlord an additional option, other than hold it, store it, move it, or sell it.  If the bill becomes law, then a landlord could also donate a tenant’s abandoned personal property to a charity.           

Hopefully few would argue that an abandoned pet should have the same legal status as an abandoned couch.  On February 20, 2018, the Arizona Senate passed the legislation 21 to 9.  It is now in the Arizona House of Representatives. 
Judge Gerald Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court.  His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.