Arizona state law and Arizona case law are clear that eviction cases,
also known as, Forcible Entry and/or Forcible detainers) are designed
to only address the issue of possession and not any issues
addressing the ownership of the property involved. The limited scope of a
forcible entry and detainer action has been strictly defined by Arizona
statute. A.R.S. § 12-1177(A) states in relevant part:

the trial of an action of Forcible Entry or Forcible Detainer, the only
issue shall be the right of actual possession and the merits of title
shall not be inquired into.

Evidence offered to the
Superior Court to show anything other than who is entitled to possess
the property will be excluded from an eviction hearing. So, if a
defendant wants to make a claim for ownership of the rental property
then they must file a quiet title action and not raise the issue during
an eviction hearing.

Proof of Ownership 

Superior Court’s inquiry into property ownership is limited to the
extent that Plaintiff holds title to the property in dispute. If the
Plaintiff/Landlord’s name appears on the trustees’s deed then the Court
should not inquire into ownership any further.

issuance of the Trustee’s Deed to Plaintiff is conclusive evidence that
all statutory requirements for the Trustee’s Sale were satisfied and
that Plaintiff has the right to possession of the Property.

A.R.S. § 33-811(B) further provides:

…the Trustee’s deed shall raise the presumption of compliance with the requirements of this chapter relating to the exercise of the power of sale and the sale of the trust property, including recording, mailing, publishing, and posting of the notice of sale and the conduct of the sale.

The Courts have held that litigation as to the
validity of title “would convert a forcible detainer action into a quiet
title action and defeat its purpose as a summary remedy.” Curtis v. Morris, 186 Ariz. 534, 535, 925 P.2d 259, 260 (1996).

For example, in Merrifield v. Merrifield,
95 Ariz. 152, 154, 388 P.2d 153, 155 (1963), the plaintiff held title
to property pursuant to quitclaim deed which was valid on its face. The
lower court nonetheless inquired into the merits of that title and
refused to find the defendant guilty of forcible entry and detainer. The
Arizona Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling because
plaintiff was entitled to possession as the title holder and pursuant to
A.R.S. § 12-1177, the trial court was prohibited from considering the
merits of the plaintiff’s title. Accordingly, any evidence offered by
Defendants to raise extrinsic issues or disprove Plaintiff’s title must
be excluded.

In another case demonstrating the Superior Courts inability to inquire into ownership in a forcible detainer (see Olds Bros. Lumber Co. v. Rushing,
64 Ariz. 199, 167 P.2d 394 (1946)), the Arizona Supreme Court stated:
“[T]he statutes of this state make that very plain and indicate quite
clearly that the right to actual possession is the only issue to be
determined in such an action.” Id. at 204, 397. The Court also
discussed the legislative intent in limiting the scope of a forcible
entry and detainer action stating:

object of a forcible entry and detainer action is to afford a summary,
speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of premises withheld
by tenants, and for this reason this objective would be entirely
frustrated if the defendant were permitted to deny his landlord’s title,
or to interpose customary and usual defenses permissible in the
ordinary action at law. And for the same reason, the merits of the title
may not be inquired into in such an action, for if the merits of the
title and other defenses above enumerated were permitted and the court
heard testimony concerning them, then other and secondary issues would
be presented to the court and the action would not afford a summary,
speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of the premises.

at 204-05, 397. Because the trustee’s deed is conclusive evidence of
Plaintiff’s title under A.R.S. § 33-811(B), and because the court is
prohibited from inquiring into the merits of that title under A.R.S. §
12-1177(A), judgment must be rendered in favor of Plaintiff regardless
of any defense of ownership the Defendants may raise.

Ownership Disputes and Eviction in the Justice Court

ownership of property and their interaction with evictions can become
very complex. The above article discusses issues of ownership disputes
and evictions in the Superior Court, however, the rules that apply to ownership disputes and evictions in the Justice Court (where most evictions take place) are completely different. Follow this link to read about a blog post I wrote that discusses ownership disputes and evictions in the Justice Court.

If you need help from an Arizona real estate attorney then contact Clint Dunaway at [email protected] or 480-389-6529.

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.

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

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. If you need help from an Arizona real estate attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at [email protected] or 480-389-6529.

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