Circuit Judge Alice Gray
has given a partial victory to residents of the Alexander Apartments
, forced to vacate the apartments around Christmas in 2015
after the city found numerous safety code violations.
The judge had earlier found the city of Little Rock had violated due process rights in removing tenants from the apartments without notice. Continuing was a claim by tenants and intervenors for the Arkansas Community Organization that the landlord had breached rental contracts by failing to provide habitable housing.
The judge said state law was clear, both in statute and court decisions. Arkansas (alone among the states) provides no warranty of habitability, explicit or implied, to people who rent housing.
But, she said, the housing code of Little Rock, with its requirement of safe and sanitary conditions, DOES become an implied part of a lease agreement and creates an implied warranty of habitability. She granted the tenant intervenors partial summary judgment on that argument. The issues of breach of contract and damages will be decided at trial, the judge said.
If this notion prevails over time, it could mean there IS some protection for tenants— at least in Little Rock, and perhaps other cities with similar housing codes — against the most anti-tenant law in the country.
The Center for Arkansas Legal Services handled the case. From its release;
Neil Sealy of Arkansas Community Organizations said, “Judge Gray's ruling is a step forward in bringing balance to Arkansas's unfair landlord tenant laws. Renters in Little Rock will no longer be stuck in housing that is dangerous and unhealthy. They will now have a way through the law to make sure that the place they are renting is safe and livable." Former tenant Melody Branch says that she feels relieved by the ruling and that, “I feel like now as tenants we are moving to a great beginning. We have some rights now.”
Judge Gray's ruling