Below is a synopsis, but the main issue concerned the refusal of the Landlord or his Property Management firm either to return my deposit or provide an itemized statement, as required by Arizona Law ( A.R.S. 33-1321-D). In fact, they claimed a further $85 again with no details. when I demanded a refund.I had an attorney write them asking for a refund or an itemized statement of deductions, but without response. When the case went into Court, they failed to appear at a pretrial conference. At the main trial the judge made reference to this as if it were my fault. This judge was totally biased and would not look at my evidence. He was also a professional landlord and his family run a Property Management firm. I feel that it would have been morally correct for him to have told me of his "special interest" up front. The property management firm claimed that they did not furnish the required itemized statement as the law did not allow enough time, and they were too busy. Whatever their excuse, this was an open admission and is a part of the record that they acted illegally! They then claimed for dead plants/shrubs and produced undated bills, which they had not admitted into discovery, again against the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. Even though my Move- in inspection report, a copy of which the Property Management Firm had acknowledged receiving, noted dead plants at move in, it did not make any difference, as the judge ordered me to forfeit my deposit and pay all costs, along with whatever else the Landord was claiming.
To protect my credit I paid this fraudulent claim within a week. I then filed for an appeal on the advice of three different attorneys whose opinions I sought. All attorneys, after having reviewed the papers, agreed that this landlord had acted illegally, and that the judge had ignored the evidence and the law itself. I retained one of these attorneys to conduct an appeal. In spite of my having a 100% case, my appeal was rejected with no proper reason given, and I was ordered to pay further costs. The landlord's attorney also claimed fees for having mailed me a copy of the judgment order from the first court, even though that court had mailed me a copy and I had paid it in full, i.e., I had legally satisfied the judgment. I was given no opportunity of contesting these costs. My attorney's advice was to write a letter of protest to the judge as he felt that the judge could not have reviewed the paperwork and it must be some mistake. Had I done so, I'd probably be in jail by now with these kangaroo courts! Mentally and financially, (to the tune of $6000) I had had enough.
Following is my synopsis of the events.
1. Rented house on a one-year lease from 8/15/97 at a rent of just under $1000 with a similar amount paid as security deposit.
2. Noted defects of property on "Move-In Inspection Report" dated 8 17/96 (exhibit A) Very specifically, dirty stained carpeting and dying plants in yard. Landlords had undertaken to clean up carpet prior to move in. I complained to landlord pointing out that I had rented a property, which was meant to have been turned over to me in a reasonably clean, and odor free condition. Landlord claimed that as I did not get that in writing they don't have to do anything further!
3. Notified landlord of inoperative sprinkler/irrigation system by fax dated 9/8/96.(Exhibit B). Followed up with phone call, and was told item would be fixed but was a low priority. Next fax was sent 4/22/97 (exhibit c) followed up with phone calls 6/25/97 and 7/1/97. In the meantime I continued watering by hand, which was very annoying as I had paid rent to include a working sprinkler.
4. Letter received dated 9/9/96 claiming shortage of rent of one cent. I thought this unreasonable and called stating I would take care of this with the following rent check. Was threatened with default if money not received within 24 hours and was reminded that they were doing me a favor by not charging their customary fee for short rent payment. However, only check or money order would be accepted, absolutely no cash! (we're talking of literally one cent). I gave in and sent a separate check for the one cent, which they surprised me by depositing immediately. This at least proved that I had responded in a timely manner.
5. I vacated the property in August 97 in accordance with the terms of the lease. On handing in the keys etc., I asked to be present at a move out inspection, which request I had noted on their "keys returned" form. Following this I received a call from Mr. Ludwig of East Valley Property informing me that inspection would take place in ten minutes, and "wasn't it too bad I could not get there in time". I raced over and made it in twenty minutes Mr. Ludwig informed me that the inspection was over and that he had found sexually oriented material on a bedroom shelf, and food stains on the range and a bar of soap in a bathroom. It was noted that the date on the a/c filter was two weeks prior to the present day but that it should have been changed on the actual day of move out. He also pointed out that the tall palm trees had some brown fronds on them. I told him that they did when we moved in, but he refused to discuss anything with me, and in general was very hostile and extremely abrasive.
6. I wrote to EVP on 9/15/97 asking for the return of my deposit. Their response was to send me a notice that they were retaining my deposit for damages, which would be determined. This is in direct contravention to ARS 33-1321-D which states that if a landlord retains a security deposit, the tenant shall be furnished with an itemized statement as to the damages for which the deposit is being retained.
7. I called demanding my deposit back or an explanation as to why it was being retained. They responded by sending me a bill for another $85 - again with no itemization! I called them and once again demanded a reason and was told that the palm trees had not been trimmed. I reminded them that they were brown when I moved in and, that in any event trimming should not cost more than $50 but that I should not be liable even for that. They threatened to sue me if I did not pay them within 30 days. They also made mention that other tenants had seen fit to oppose them in the past and had got nowhere. I told them that under the law I was entitled to at least an itemized explanation. They told me they did not care what the law said, and reiterated that no tenant had ever won against them.
8. After this conversation, I was outraged and turned the whole matter over to the law firm of John H Winter. They wrote them a letter demanding return of our deposit, and received a billing for $1085, again without explanation.
9. Claim filed in Mesa Justice Court for return of deposit.
10. Pre-trial Conference date set.
11. I, along with my attorney, attended Court for the pre trial, but neither the landlord, property management firm, nor attorneys showed up. We waited 1 1/2 hours past the appointed time before leaving, and had our timely appearance noted by the clerk of the court along with the fact that none from their side showed up.
12. I asked my attorney to file for a judgment by default, but he refused on the grounds that the judge would not agree.
13. Finally went to trial. Landlords admitted they filed to give the itemized statement required under the law as they ran out of time. They claimed we had failed to trim some brown fronds from 30' tall palm trees, and produced a bill from a tree trimmer which was undated and referred to two years growth being removed. I pointed out that we were there only a year to begin with, and that the tree fronds were brown when we moved in. I showed the judge a photo of that part of the yard I had taken shortly after move in. The judge refused to admit it into evidence because it did not have a date. The photo itself showed a bowl of vincas and petunias, which at least indicated the season. Also I had the film developing receipt which had a date. Strange that their bill for removing two years growth was undated, and yet it was taken into evidence!
14. My attorney had me read out my move in inspection report where it clearly made reference to dying plants. The Landlords admitted having received this at move-in as it was part of their admitted documentation. Landlords claimed that plants had died while I was a tenant, and produced a bill for replanting (again in violation of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, as this should have been made available to us before the trial). This bill was for plants that were not even there to begin with! This also included charges for repairs to the sprinkler system which was proven defective on our move in. The judge permitted a bill to be admitted into evidence for the mowing and trimming of the grass on Sept 26 97, which was over three weeks after termination of the lease and our move out on Aug 31, on which day I had the lawn mowed and trimmed. In that time the grass would have grown a lot, but I should not be responsible for that.
15. Landlord made reference to the stains on the carpet saying that it needed replacement and that it was an oversight on their part that this cost hadn't been included in their claim! The condition of the carpet was very clearly stated on the move-in inspection, and was also the subject of many complaints by me.
16. Judge ruled against me without giving a reason, and made an order for me to pay 100% of all legal costs, together with all amounts claimed by landlords. Even the bills for the new landscaping (if it existed) did not total to this amount, so I still have not received an itemized statement!
17. I received a notice of judgment from the Court, which I paid in full immediately by cashier's check.
18. Landlords sent me an identical copy of the judgment, and claimed a further $40 in fees for so doing, even though I had not asked for a copy and had paid it in full. This action is not legal, and yet it was submitted to Superior court, where a judge ruled in their favor.
19. Appeal was filed on the advice of three different attorneys who were of the opinion that the first court acted improperly and that the landlords had violated the Law.
20. Appeal was ruled in favor of Landlord. Attorney acting on my behalf was of the opinion that the judge had not looked at any of the paperwork at it was a mistake, and suggested that I wrote to the judge.
This landlord/property management firm had ripped of the previous tenant, a Mr.Chris Ensenburger, using the same "dead plant/broken sprinkler" trick and had also claimed for plants that were not even there to begin with as they had done with me, They had made it impossible for him to be present at a move out inspection, by saying they could not get to it for a couple of weeks, knowing he was moving to Texas in two days.Just as they made it difficult for me by giving me 10 minutes warning. I am sure they have done this with all their other tenants as well, but I could not trace them. It is obvious that these people are very professional in extracting as much money from their victims.
This is not the end. It is something I will never forget. It is something one might expect in a third world country. With a legal system like this, there must be many people in jail wrongfully convicted, simply because they were not in the "right" clique. If laws are not applied equally and impartially to all people, those laws should be struck off the statute books. Had ARS 33-1321 not been passed, I would not have been given a false sense of security and opposed the tyranny I underwent.
I have been ripped off by the landlord, a Mr Dino Delci of Las Vegas, his Property Management person, Mr Verner Ludwig of East Valley Property Management. The judge, Mr. Passey of the Mesa/ Gilbert Justice Court, and by the attorney who handled my appeal, a Mr Carlton Casler, who was of no doubt that I would prevail. It is a sad day when the Mesa Courts see fit to operate
without regard to the law and individual rights, but an even sadder one when the State of Arizona Superior Court supports their unconsititutional actions to the full buy ignoring the evidence brought before them in appeal.
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