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Amid coronavirus eviction pause, landlord locks veterinarian out of clinic and Flagstaff rallies to support

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series
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Alpine GoFundMe

Alpine Animal Clinic exceeded its GoFundMe goal Thursday after only being posted for nine hours.

Flagstaff community members rallied to raise $22,218 in nine hours to help a local veterinarian who was locked out of his workplace Thursday by his landlord amid the coronavirus eviction ban.

Don MacKenzie, a veterinarian who owns and operates Alpine Animal Clinic at 1066 W. Route 66, arrived at work Thursday to find the locks changed with many clients scheduled to bring their animals to his clinic that day. MacKenzie admitted he had failed to make his March and April payments on time.

Duane Weston, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the landlord, said his client hopes to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, but said that MacKenzie’s lease had ended the day of the lockout.

Through a GoFundMe posted by one of MacKenzie’s employees, the clinic was able to raise $27,750 through community donations as of Friday night. The clinic’s goal was originally set at $22,218 to pay for rent and late fees.

MacKenzie spoke with the Arizona Daily Sun about the situation, saying many people also donated equipment, offered to help the clinic move, and allowed him to use their space during the lockout. He said he is dedicated to using the money on his debts, or returning it to the community.

“The fact that so many of my clients and other veterinarians in town and boarding kennels in town — with all this uncertainty — that they thought that somehow it was worth trying to help me and trying to help me save my business; I’m blown away. I don’t get it,” MacKenzie said, audibly emotional.

The GoFundMe page was updated by organizer Samantha Page to reflect the goal already having been reached.

"In just nine hours, we have met our fundraising goal. You all are incredible," Page wrote. "There are no words to adequately describe how we feel right now, or what this means to us."

Legal questions

MacKenzie felt one unforeseen consequence of the GoFundMe was that many people have begun harassing the landlord and their family through phone calls. In MacKenzie’s mind, it’s a dispute between a renter and a landlord.

“This person is making their decisions based on what they think is best for them. Do I agree? No. Does that mean I want to see them hounded? God, no. That’s just wrong,” MacKenzie said. “The whole mob mentality these days with the internet — folks, step back. It’s not right.”

The looming question is whether the landlord had the legal right to serve the lockout amid the statewide ban on evictions and notices to vacate commercial properties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MacKenzie said he was not given notice of the lockout before it occurred, and that his business had seen a 40% drop in during the pandemic impacting his ability to pay rent in April.

However, the landlord’s lawyers said the tenant had been “consistently behind” on his rent for more than a year, including his failed March payment that was due before the coronavirus social distancing orders were implemented in Arizona. Additionally, lawyers allege MacKenzie had not renewed his lease, and said the equipment cannot be removed from the premises before the debt is paid, citing the contract.

“Sadly, this individual is using the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic to disguise his poor business practices by alleging that this one-day lockout is in violation of the governor’s executive orders regarding landlords and tenants,” Weston said in his statement.

MacKenzie said he was planning to move out of his building Friday, and the lockout prevented that. Both parties said the tenant and landlord had been in discussions about the ending five-year lease since October 2019.

MacKenzie said he wants to keep this out of the courts, but said the landlord’s lawyers have not responded to his lawyer's calls since the locks were changed.

“I mean, this [money] has given me a chance. This I can do things with. We can settle things in a civilized manner I hope. I really hope that’s how this is going to go,” MacKenzie said.

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