Arkansas is the only state that makes failure to pay rent and to vacate a crime. The statute says that if a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time the tenant “forfeits” or loses the rest of their lease term, and 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. It also turns tenants into criminals. And if a tenant fails to show up at the arraignment, unlike in a civil proceeding where a default judgment will be issued, in a criminal eviction case the tenant has now committed a second crime, “failure to appear,” and 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.
Arkansans for Stronger Communities is proposing legislation to repeal the failure to vacate statute.
Most Arkansas evictions are filed using this procedure. It’s confusing to tenants because first they receive a document called a Summons that says they have 30 days to respond. But then either at the same time or later they receive a second document called a “Notice of Intention to Issue Writ of Possession.” This document gives them only five days to respond in order to receive a hearing. Not only that, but if the landlord says rent is due, the tenant has to pay the rent to the court in order to receive a hearing. If the tenant doesn’t do these two things, after the five days are up, the court clerk will issue the writ of possession to the sheriff, who will evict the tenant. In Arkansas, defendants in other types of cases have 30 days in which to respond. But Arkansas gives tenants only five days, and this with their homes at stake.
The law should be fair to both landlords and tenants, but as it stands now, Arkansas’s eviction laws are designed to get rid of tenants as quickly as possible. It’s true that some tenants know they are behind on the rent and just want to leave, but some tenants have legitimate issues with landlords that deserve to be heard by a judge. Arkansas’s unlawful detainer statute makes this almost impossible. A lease is a contract. No other Arkansas law makes it a crime to breach a contract, but 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 is proposing legislation to:
- Provide tenants with an easy to understand notice
- Give tenants more time in which to respond
- Eliminate the requirement to pay the court in order to be heard by a judge
- And we are proposing a simple straightforward eviction procedure that guarantees a tenant the right to a hearing.