by David Ramsey
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.