Arkansas is the only state that makes a tenant’s breach of a civil contract a crime. The statute, Ark. Code Ann. §18-16-101, says that if a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time, the tenant “forfeits” or loses the rest of their lease term. If the landlord then gives the tenant ten days to leave and the tenant hasn’t moved out at the end of the ten days, the tenant has committed a criminal offense. This statute allows landlords to be subsidized by taxpayers since prosecuting attorneys file charges. Unfortunately, it also turns tenants into criminals, and if a tenant fails to show up at the arraignment, the tenant has now committed a second crime, “failure to appear.” The judge will issue a bench warrant for the tenant’s arrest. Imagine a law that criminalized someone who didn’t move out of their home ten days after missing a mortgage payment. It would be unthinkable. And yet Arkansas doesn’t hesitate to push tenants who are late with their rent into the criminal justice system, in effect criminalizing poverty.
Thanks to changes Arkansans for Stronger Communities advocated for in the 2021 General Assembly, tenants no longer have to pay a deposit to the court to be heard by a judge in unlawful detainer eviction cases. Most Arkansas evictions are filed using this procedure.
Arkansas’s eviction laws are designed to get rid of tenants as quickly as possible. Some tenants know they are behind on the rent and want to leave; however, some tenants have legitimate issues with landlords that deserve to be heard by a judge.
A lease is a contract. No other Arkansas law makes it a crime to breach a contract. Still, our criminal eviction statutes turn tenants into criminals for, in essence, not paying the rent. It’s time to change the law and make it fair.
Arkansans for Stronger Communities supports legislation to repeal the failure to vacate statute.