Feb 15, 2017

Ownership Disputes and Evictions in the Justice Courts

In Arizona, residential eviction cases are usually brought in the Justice Court system. A Judge (also known as a Justice of the Peace in the Justice Court system) has the authority to evict tenants for a myriad of reasons. They can evict for; nonpayment of rent, material breach of lease agreement, wrongful holdover, etc. However, a Justice Court judge cannot make decisions or even hear arguments over ownership of the property in an eviction case.

A.R.S. § 22-201(D) addresses this issue:
Justices of the peace have jurisdiction to try the right to possession of real property when title or ownership is not a subject of inquiry in the action. If in any such action the title or ownership of real property becomes an issue, the justice shall so certify in the court record, at once stop further proceedings in the action and forward all papers together with a certified copy of the court record in the action to the Superior Court, where the action shall be docketed and determined as though originally brought in the Superior Court.
A.R.S. § 22-201(F) adds further clarification:
In actions between landlord and tenant for possession of leased premises, the title to the property leased shall not be raised nor made an issue.
This means that if a Defendant/Tenant tells the Justice Court Judge they have an ownership interest in the property then the hearing will immediately be stopped and the matter forwarded on to the Superior Court.

Occasionally when a case is sent to the Superior Court a landlord will respond, "but my tenant doesn't own the property! It's mine! They're just lying! Why is the judge believing them? What could have been done to prevent this?"

While the landlords' frustration is understandable it's important to remember that the Justice Court judge is just following the law. Just because a Justice Court Judge moves a case into the Superior Court does not mean they believe the tenant. Additionally, it does not mean that the tenant did something right or that we made some kind of a mistake. It simply means the Judge is following the law.

Learn about what happens when an eviction case is sent to the Arizona Superior Court because the tenant claims an ownership interest.