Bill to preserve punishing landlord-tenant law routed to committee friendly to realtors lobby | Arkansas Blog

Bill to preserve punishing landlord-tenant law routed to committee friendly to realtors lobby

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JOHNSON: His bill is bad news for renters' rights.
  • JOHNSON: His bill is bad news for renters' rights.
Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws in the nation in terms of the rights of renters, and stands as the only state in the nation that criminalizes renters for failure to vacate if they are in arrears.

Noted: SB25, which appears to be an effort by the Arkansas Realtors Association to preserve the status quo, isn't heading to House Judiciary this week, as you might expect. Instead it's being re-routed to a committee likely friendlier to the realtor lobby.  The bill, sponsored by Sen. Blake Johnson, is designed to preserve criminal eviction as much as possible in the wake of three circuit court rulings which found the practice unconstitutional. It passed out of Senate Judiciary last week. You might think it would next be heading to House Judiciary (where a similar bill went last session), but apparently the realtors lobby didn't quite feel comfortable about the vote count. Instead it's heading to House Insurance and Commerce, a committee viewed to be thoroughly in their pockets (this was the same committee where an effort to address minimum habitability standards for rental premises was shot down last session).

The bill is on the agenda in House Insurance and Commerce this Wednesday.

Last week I posted comments on the bill from Lynn Foster of the UALR Bowen Law School faculty, an expert in landlord-tenant law. Here they are again, after the jump:

SB 25, as now amended, states that a tenant who doesn't pay the rent on time loses her property interest and must leave. It allows the landlord to issue a 10-day notice. If after the 10 days the tenant is still on the premises, the tenant is guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill states that after conviction, the tenant can be fined between $1 and $25 per day for each day the tenant remains on the premises. The tenant has no right to a jury trial, and the judge has no power to evict the tenant. The landlords behind this bill are doing their best to make a criminal statute function as a civil statute, but again it falls short. It's also extremely harsh in some ways. You can be ordered to leave for being one day late with your rent, once. There's no opportunity to cure. If you have a legitimate dispute with your landlord, perhaps over repairs, and remain on the premises, now you are guilty of a crime. The statute is designed with one aim in mind—to allow landlords to get tenants out as easily as possible, never mind what legitimate arguments a tenant might have. The amendments do nothing to change that.

No other state makes failure to vacate a crime. Arkansas is unique in this regard. All other states have at least one civil eviction statute. Arkansas has the unlawful detainer statute but many landlords don't like to use it. They have to hire an attorney (hard to find in some rural counties, and sometimes hard to afford) to write the pleadings; sometimes it is slow; and there is a filing fee of $165.

The failure to vacate statute was declared unconstitutional by three Arkansas circuit courts in 2015. Instead of following the unanimous recommendations of the 2012 Arkansas Landlord-Tenant Study Commission and drafting a streamlined civil procedure action, the landlords behind this bill are still hanging on to their free legal assistance and perpetuating Arkansas's dubious distinction as the state with the least tenants' rights.



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