END OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION UPDATE
GOOD BILL THAT FAILED–A Safe Rental Housing/Eviction Bill: HB1563, sponsored by Reps. Jimmy Gazaway, David Hillman, DeAnn Vaught, Nicole Clowney, Monte Hodges, and Jamie Scott
Details: HB 1563 started out as an implied warranty of habitability/eviction bill. Some representatives asked for the eviction procedure to be removed. That lost the support of other representatives, who wanted the eviction procedure. The final amended version required all landlords who owned more than four rental units to provide and maintain premises that have weatherproof and sound exterior and interior structures and working plumbing, electricity, heat, air conditioning (if provided), hot and cold running water, smoke detectors and CO detectors (if needed), working locks on doors and latches on first floor windows, no infestations of pests and vermin that materially affect health and safety, or harmful mold that has a material effect on health and safety. The bill also prohibited landlords from requiring tenants to waive these rights, and from retaliating against tenants who exercise their rights. If failing to provide any of the preceding had a harmful effect on health and safety, the tenant could ask for repairs. If the landlord didn’t repair within fourteen days, the tenant could sue to force the landlord to repair, recover a refund for money spent because of the noncompliance of the landlord, or terminate the lease. If a repair was too expensive, a landlord could offer the tenant the option to leave in return for a month’s rent and whatever security deposit the tenant was entitled to. This bill received a “DO PASS” vote from the House Insurance and Commerce Committee on Mar. 17 but was not offered for a vote in the House, because it lacked the support to pass.
GOOD BILL THAT FAILED-Repealed the Criminal Eviction Statute: HB1798, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Clowney
Details: Arkansas is the only state that criminalizes the process of eviction. One of our three eviction statutes states that if a tenant doesn’t pay rent when it is due, they forfeit the rest of their lease term. If the property is located in a court district that allows these cases, the landlord can then file an affidavit with the prosecutor, who will charge the tenant with the criminal offense of failure to vacate. The tenant may be arrested prior to the criminal hearing. Because this is a criminal process, if the tenant fails to appear she will then be charged with failure to appear, a more serious offense, and a warrant will be issued for her arrest. Last year more than 200 of these cases were filed. Rep. McGrew routinely files failure to vacate charges against tenants who are late with the rent, according to a 2020 ProPublica article. Rep. McGrew was also one of the chief opponents of our good bill, HB1563. HB1798 was sent to the House Insurance and Commerce Committee, an odd committee choice for a bill repealing a crime. It failed in committee.
GOOD RESOLUTION THAT FAILED — Joint Resolution and Sponsors: SJR11, Senator Greg Leding and Representative Jay Richardson
Details: This joint resolution would, if enacted, create a ballot initiative that voters would have the opportunity to enact as an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. It repeals Arkansas’s criminal eviction statute, requires landlords to maintain premises, allows tenants of noncomplying landlords to withhold rent, sue to enforce, repair themselves and deduct the repairs from their rent, or terminate the lease. It prohibits a landlord from retaliating against a tenant who exercises their rights under the amendment. It creates penalties for landlords who abuse access to rental premises, creates penalties for landlords who illegally evict tenants without a court order, and prevents landlords from raising rent without 60 days’ notice.
ASC supported this resolution, although it was not part of our legislative package. The legislature can enact up to three Constitutional amendments to appear on the ballot in 2022. Legislators introduced 43 amendments this session.
Senator Leding has been a tireless supporter of fair landlord-tenant laws for years and has introduced bills in the past. Thank you, Sen. Leding and Rep. Richardson! If our legislature won’t enact fair landlord tenant laws, let the people vote! Over 90% of Arkansans support minimum rental housing standards.
THE BILL THAT PASSED–SB594 sponsored by Sen. Dismang and Rep. Hawks — requires landlords to provide a sound structure, running and drinkable water, “available” electricity, whatever heating and air conditioning is available at the beginning of the lease term, and plumbing. But the requirement is largely toothless because if the landlord fails to provide or repair any of these, the tenant’s only remedy is to move out. There’s a nonwaiver clause but no additional remedies and no anti-retaliation provision. Sen. Dismang asked ASC for its suggestions and the final amended bill did contain some of our suggestions, but don’t think this is an implied warranty of habitability–it’s not. However, many legislators acknowledged a willingness to add to the law in future sessions. And the law does contain one clear and significant benefit for tenants–in unlawful detainer eviction cases, tenants will no longer have to pay a deposit to the court in order to be heard by a judge. And, the law doesn’t hurt rights tenants have to use the defense of constructive eviction.