Can I Get a Witness? Notices – Documents and The Courts

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Whenever a landlord has to go to court against a resident, one factor crucial in winning is to have the correct documentation. Cases can be won or lost depending upon your notices, letters, repair invoices, photographs and other written evidence. This article will provide a general overview of written evidence as it relates to landlord and tenant issues.

Giving a Renter Notice
A notice to your renter of a violation of your lease, or community policies or the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is the first step before taking any potential court action. If the notice is based upon complaints from other residents, properly document these alleged violations. Have the person who is complaining provide you with all the details in writing. This way, if the resident later decided not to cooperate or testify, you still have documented your basis for giving notice. Also, document your file by noting the date, time and substance of the complaints.
If you are receiving letters from a resident, make sure you answer the letters. Keeping a paper trail can be very crucial if your situation ever reaches the court.
Be specific in your notice to your residents. For example, a noncompliance letter notice under A.R.S. § 33-1368(a) requires that the landlord “specify the acts and omissions constituting the breach.” Don’t say, “excessive noise from the apartment.” Specify, “On June 10, 2014 at 1 a.m., your stereo was so loud your neighbors couldn’t sleep.” Don’t say, “Violation of paragraph 10 of your lease.” Spell out the offense. You must provide sufficient details so the resident has enough information to know what he or she is being accused of.
Make sure you give the right kind of notice that the situation calls for. For example, you would not want to give a renter an immediate eviction notice for alleged drug trafficking if you do not have proof but only a suspicion based upon complaints of excessive traffic. In this case, you would use a noncompliance notice for “excessive traffic in and out of your apartment at all hours of the day and night staying for short periods of time and disturbing the peace and quiet of other residents.”
Prompt, personal delivery of notices to someone in the apartment old enough to understand what they are receiving, certified mail, or registered mail are the only legal means of service under state law.

Getting a Witness
If you have to go to court, make sure you have eyewitnesses with personal knowledge of the accusations.
Letters from residents or even affidavits are not admissible because they are hearsay and you cannot ask questions of a piece of paper. The normal exception is business records, and the judge determines how much weight, if any, to give to the documents.
If a witness will not voluntarily come to court, you can have the court issue a subpoena, which requires the person to appear and testify. A subpoena is a valid reason for a witness to be excused from work.

The landlord also needs to properly document any damages to the apartment caused by the resident. The move-in/ move-out checklist identifies the apartment condition at the start and end of tenancy. If damages are found, photograph them and have them viewed by people who saw the apartment at move-in so they can compare the condition at move-out.

By Andrew Hull
Hull, Holliday, & Holliday, PLC

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