Defining the Term “Slum Lord”

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By Matt Koglmeier and Brian Sichko, Koglmeier Law Group, PLC.

Life is full of unanswered questions. A practical mystery quite worthy of your consideration is the concept of the Slum Lord. A quick search on Google using the phrase “Slum Lord” produces results that are as extensive as they are varied. Merriam-Webster defines the term “Slum Lord” as a person who owns a building with apartments that are in bad condition and rents them to poor people. Urban Dictionary.com lists a number of colloquial definitions of “Slum Lord” each more negative than the last.

It is pretty darn simple — no one wants to be a Slum Lord. Such a negative connotation will likely detract from prospective business, and lead to the government taking the property under eminent domain for compensation that is not determined by you. Generally, such a classification is preventable. Before answering the seemingly basic question, “How do I avoid being a slum lord?” we must figure out what a Slum Lord is. The Arizona Landlord Tenant Act (“The ARLTA”) does not provide any direct guidance as to what actual conduct is necessary to be labeled a “Slum Lord.”

In fact, A.R.S. §33-1310 defines seventeen (17) terms including “dwelling unit,” “landlord,” “rent,” “premises,” and even “roomer,” but “Slum Lord” is not included. Enter A.R.S. §33-1901.3, which attempts to provide some guidance into the definition of a “Slum Lord.” The statute defines the term “Slum Property” as:
Residential rental property that has deteriorated or is in a state of disrepair and that manifests one or more of the following conditions:
Structurally unsound exterior surfaces, roof, walls, doors, floors, stairwells, porches or railings.
Lack of potable water, adequate sanitation facilities, adequate water or waste pipe connections.
Hazardous electrical systems or gas connections.
Lack of safe, rapid egress.
Accumulation of human or animal waste, medical or biological waste, gaseous or combustible materials, dangerous or corrosive liquids, flammable or explosive materials, or drug paraphernalia.

So know we know the definition of a “Slum Lord.” It is a landlord that owns “Slum Property” as defined by A.R.S. §33-1901.3.
Now, back to our original inquiry, “How do I avoid being a slum lord?”

Step 1, understand that as a landlord you are potentially responsible for tenant actions if the result brings about one of the conditions in A.R.S. §33-1901.3. Therefore, when a tenant’s actions cause a condition listed in A.R.S. §33-1901.3, serve 5 day notices for public health and safety immediately and evict if the condition is not corrected.

Step 2, both owners and management companies need to be proactive in their daily conduct. Regardless of whether a condition listed under A.R.S. §33-1901.3 is not created by a tenant or not, a helpful acronym that should be religiously adhered to is “The Three R’s (RRR)” or “Record, Reply, Repair.” In other words, the 3 R’s should be triggered the moment staff notices a problem (either of their own discovery or if put on notice by a tenant). This should cause staff to document the situation, generating thorough notes. Staff should immediately reply to tenant or the community what the issue is and that the issue is to be remedied. Most importantly, the issue needs to be remedied as expediently and efficiently as circumstances allow, generally within 5 days. Some additional tips include:
If you can, try not to rent units without first showing the prospective tenant the unit in question.

Be proactive on repairs.
Conduct routine walk-throughs of units after providing appropriate notice and also walk the property regularly.
If repairs are necessary, make them a priority.
Keep a call log to document issues with units or the property.
Take lots of pictures.
Document everything, including your attempts to fix the problem.

Matt Koglmeier and Brian Sichko are attorneys with Koglmeier Law Group, PLC. They can be reached at
480-962-5353.

The views expressed here are generalized advice or information.
Fact-specific questions
should always be referred to legal counsel. Statements and opinions expressed in these legal columns are solely those of the author or authors.

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