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12:17 AM Tue, Nov. 13th

<BR>Evictions reach high numbers in 2002

A significant number of Mohave County residents were evicted from their homes in 2002.

"It happens a lot," John Taylor, the Cerbat Precinct justice of the peace, said.

"I get a feeling it is increasing.

I can tell by the number of cases I handle."

Taylor said he doesn't delve into the causes of non-payment of rent or mortgage payment, but hears the cases as a matter of law.

Although many eviction actions are settled before reaching court, Taylor said 434 landlord-tenant cases came before him during 2002.

"Non-payment of rent or mortgage payment can bring on an eviction.

Noncompliance of the use of the property, or misuse of the property can also lead to an eviction," he said.

"It is a civil case proven by a preponderance of evidence."

Taylor said anyone with questions about any landlord/tenant issue can pick up a copy of the Residential Landlord & Tenant Act, a handbook available at the Cerbat Justice Court, 524 W Beale St.

ReMax property manager Helena Baughman, who managers about 400 rental properties, said she sees one to two families a month evicted from their homes.

"Most people don't want to talk about it," she said.

"It is embarrassing to them."

Baughman said evicting someone is the last step in a legal process that begins with non-payment of rent.

"When the rent is due, people usually have a grace period in which to pay it, but then the landlord can start the process," she said.

The process starts with a five-day notice (for nonpayment of rent).

If the tenant does not pay in that time, the landlord may file a special detainer or forcible detainer, which is served on the tenant, Baughman said.

A court date - usually about a week later - is set.

"The tenants can still pay the rent, but now they must pay late charges, and the cost of filing," she said.

During the hearing, the tenant pleads guilty or not guilty, and the judge rules.

"People think the courts will listen, and be on their side, but the judge listens to the facts," she said.

If the landlord wins, a writ of restitution - ordering the tenant five calendar days to vacate the premises - is issued.

If the tenant refuses to vacate the premises once the writ of restitution is issued and executed, someone from the sheriff's department, or a constable, will escort the tenant off the property.

"I have been doing this for 17 years, and it amazes me that quite a few times the judge gives the order to vacate and the tenants still don't leave," Baughman said.

She said it is illegal to shut someone's utilities off to force them to leave.

"A lot of landlords have gotten into trouble for turning off essential services," she said.

"Once the tenant has vacated the property and the locks are changed, then the utilities can be shut off, but not until then."

She added that the Residential Landlord & Tenant Act handbook is "our Bible" for the legal rights of landlords and tenants.

Kingman attorney Jeffrey Goldberg said he has handled hundreds of eviction cases during the past few years.

"The process is the same when it is a lender," Goldberg said.

"If someone quits making mortgage payments and the lender forecloses, only then can there be an eviction."

The Mohave County Community Development Department offers eviction rental assistance - through the Emergency Housing Assistance Program - to those who qualify.

One of the main qualifications is that the person seeking assistance have an income, Mohave County Community Development Community Services Manager Dave Wolf said.

"It is a one-time assistance program.

It is for someone who just lost a job or became ill," Wolf said.

"It is to prevent homelessness or to help homeless people get into a home.

It is to help people to be self-sufficient, but they have to have and income or be working toward an income."

Wolf said the department spends $3,000 a month helping about seven to 10 Kingman families with housing assistance, many who are elderly or disabled.

Applications are taken on the second Monday of each month at the Community Development Department, and only the first 15 people in line can apply.

"We don't want to see people evicted from their homes," he said.

"A lot of times we will give them part of the payment and talk to the landlord to make payment arrangements.

We have had a good response from the community."

The program is financed through a state grant that helps 25 to 30 people in the county each month.

However, Wolf said applicants must first exhaust other avenues of assistance, including Western Arizona Council of Governments, St.

Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army and Kingman Resource Center, all of which offer housing assistance to qualified applicants when funds are available.

Salvation Army envoy Carol Heib said the post works with other churches to help with housing assistance to prevent someone from being evicted.