Your tenant is behind on rent and your repeated requests for payment have fallen on deaf ears. Your only remaining recourse is to file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. The lawsuit presents a clear case of liability and damages. You are confident in your ability to tell a judge why you are entitled to prevail, and therefore do not want to incur the cost of an attorney to represent you in the case.
If you own the rental property in your individual capacity and you are of sound mind, there is no question that you can represent yourself as the plaintiff in the eviction lawsuit. This general rule, however, does not apply if the property is held in the name of a corporation, LLC, partnership, or some other entity form. In those instances, attorney representation is required unless there is an exception to the rule found in Arizona statutes or case law interpretations of statutory law. Here is an overview of the law on this topic.
Self-Representation Almost Always Permitted for Individual Plaintiffs
A natural person can almost always appear in pro per to represent himself or herself in a lawsuit. This rule is predicated on fundamental constitutional principles. Specifically, courts throughout the Unitted States have uniformly held that the Sixth Amendment, in addition to guaranteeing the right to retained or appointed counsel, also guarantees a defendant the right to represent himself. The seminal case on this issue is Faretta v. California, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1975. The Faretta case held that a judge must allow self-representation if the party is competent to understand and participate in the case knowingly, intelligently, and without any major disruption of the court’s orderly procedures.
Attorney Representation Generally Required Where the Plaintiff is a Corporation or LLC
While a natural person can almost always appear pro per, a corporation or LLC is generally considered an entity separate and distinct from its owners and officers. This separateness of existence has prompted American courts to conclude that corporations or other entity forms generally cannot appear in court without a lawyer. This rule applies in state courts, as well as federal courts. Additionally, it applies to tribunals, not just courts.
This rule is bolstered by the laws prohibiting individuals to practice law without a law license. Specifically, in Arizona (and elsewhere), an individual cannot practice law in the state unless the person is an active member of the state bar. As whoever would be appearing in court on behalf of the corporation would technically be providing legal services for another, i.e., the corporation, they therefore would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
Exceptions to the General Rule That Attorney Representation Required for Corporate Entity
The rules requiring attorney representation for a corporate entity will apply unless the law provides for an exception. The most common exceptions are set forth in Section D of Arizona Rule of Court 31(d)(3), which provides:
“3. An officer of a corporation or a managing member of a limited liability company who is not an active member of the state bar may represent such entity before a justice court…provided that: the entity has specifically authorized such officer or managing member to represent it before such courts; such representation is not the officer’s or managing member’s primary duty to the entity, but secondary or incidental to other duties relating to the management or operation of the entity; and the entity was an original party to the contract or occurrence giving rise to the cause of action. “
Thus, a lawyer is not required to represent a corporate entity in justice court when these conditions are present. Accordingly, an individual corporate officer or member of an LLC may represent the entity if the eviction is filed in justice court and the enumerated conditions for the representation exist. The total amount that may be claimed in an eviction action filed in a justice court is $10,000.00, not including interest, costs and awarded attorneys’ fees.
Evictions After Foreclosure Must Be filed in Superior Court, Not Justice Court
The Arizona Court of Appeals held that justice courts lack jurisdiction to enforce a forcible detainer action when a property is purchased at a trustee’s sale. Instead, the owner must file a forcible detainer action in superior court if the property is purchased at a trustee’s sale and the owner thereafter wants to evict the occupants from the property,. Secure Ventures LLC v. Gerlach, 249 Ariz. 97,466 P.3d 874. Accordingly, attorney representation would be required for such an eviction action if the plaintiff is a corporation or LLC, as no exception to that requirement exists in Arizona Superior Court.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Representation
There are several advantages to self-representation. Some benefits of representing yourself in civil court include saving money on attorney fees, having control over how to handle a case, and ensuring that significant time will be dedicated to the case.
There are also obvious drawbacks and disadvantages to self-representation. Some disadvantages to self-representation in civil cases include not knowing or understanding the intricacies of the law and court procedures, and being held to the standard of an attorney despite not having any professional training or experience.
A corporate officer or individual member of an LLC may represent the entity in an Arizona justice court eviction action if the entity has specifically authorized the representation, the representation is not the officer’s or managing member’s primary duty to the entity, and the entity was an original party to the rental contract. If these conditions do not exist, attorney representation is required. An attorney is also required when the corporate plaintiff files the action in Superior Court.
If you are an Arizona landlord and have questions regarding the above, please contact Lynx Legal at 888-441-2355 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also schedule a telephonic consultation on our website to discuss your specific eviction issues and/or start your case. Our experienced professionals are standing by to assist in any way we can.