Category Archives: 2017 Legislation

SB 25 Now in the House–Jan. 30

Senate Bill 25 passed the Senate today. For a record of who voted, click here. The powers behind this bill (largely the Arkansas Realtors Association, we believe) are in a big hurry. It’s only week 4 of the legislative session, and they are pushing this bill through the General Assembly as quickly as possible. We noted something odd today. The bill originated in the Senate and was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But on the House side, the bill has been routed to the House Insurance and Commerce Committee, and not the House Judiciary Committee. Why? Do the realtors believe that the House Insurance and Commerce Committee will be more favorable? And did they persuade the person who assigns bills to committees to agree with them? This identical bill was introduced in 2015, and it was heard by the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s certainly on the fast track. It’s scheduled to be heard by Insurance and Commerce on Wednesday. Come to the hearing, if you can. It’s scheduled for 10 am in Room 149 of the Capitol. House hearings are recorded, so if you don’t attend you can watch/listen to the hearing later.

This is bad news, and will not really help landlords, for reasons we will explain in a subsequent post.

SB 25 Update–Jan. 27

Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted “do pass” on amended SB 25. The bill is scheduled for a vote by the full Senate Monday, Jan. 30. Contact your Senator and urge them to vote NO! Arkansas tenants deserve a civil eviction statute so that if worst comes to worst and a landlord has to evict the tenant won’t be guilty of a crime!

In the Thursday Committee session no testimony was heard. The Chair of the Committee inaccurately characterized the bill as imposing consequences similar to those would get for letting your grass grow too high. No mention was made of the unfairness of landlords using the prosecutorial and law enforcement mechanisms of the State to get tenants off premises by use of criminal procedures, and of the fact that tenants almost never have lawyers to represent their interests. No one mentioned the fact that the amended bill grants no power to criminal courts to actually evict tenants. All they can do is fine them with criminal fines.

Work is being done now on a civil eviction bill. Contact your Senator and urge them to support the civil eviction bill. This week several Senators stated they knew a civil procedure is what is really needed. Let’s see if they really believe this. Will they be willing to sponsor a good civil eviction bill? Let’s see what they say.

SB 25 Hearing

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on amended Senate Bill 25, which would repeal part of the failure to vacate statute but leave part of it in place. Under the amended bill, once the due date for even one rent payment passes without payment of rent, the tenant loses the right to remain on the premises. If a landlord then tells the tenant in writing to leave within 10 days, a tenant who does not leave is guilty of a misdemeanor. If the tenant is convicted after a hearing in district court, the tenant can be fined between $1 and $25 a day for each day the tenant remains on the premises.

Neither this bill nor the original statute sought to be amended allow judges to evict tenants, but many criminal judges do order tenants to leave, even though the judges don’t have the power to do this.

Under the current law and under this amendment if passed, landlords still will be able to file a criminal complaint against a tenant and get free, taxpayer-subsidized legal assistance from the prosecutor or city attorney who prosecutes the tenant.

Tenants have no right to a jury trial under this statute.

In all other states, a landlord must file a civil (not a criminal) complaint to evict a tenant. Many states have “housing courts” where streamlined procedures are followed. In some states, forms for landlords and tenants to use are available on the Internet and neither side needs an attorney. This is what the Landlord-Tenant Study Commission recommended for Arkansas in 2012. Instead of working on such a procedure, landlords did nothing.

In 2015, three courts declared the failure to vacate statute unconstitutional. So now, instead of working on a streamlined civil procedure, the landlords are asking for a watered-down criminal statute, thinking that it will pass a constitutionality test. Meanwhile, landlords still get taxpayer-subsidized legal assistance, the “offense” is still a crime, and criminal judges still have no power to evict a tenant.

Several folks in the hearing room today said that they know a civil procedure is what is needed but “in the meantime” the landlords need a way to get tenants out. Arkansas already has an unlawful detainer statute, which is a fair civil procedure. Landlords don’t like to use it because the pleadings are so technical that an attorney is necessary, some landlords feel it is slower, and it costs $165 to file. A few courts are also using a newer, faster civil eviction statute which was enacted in 2007. These courts don’t have the jurisdiction to use this procedure because the Arkansas Supreme Court has never okayed it, but they use it anyway.

Ultimately, two Senators voted to abstain, one voted against and the others voted for. There weren’t enough votes to pass. Not all Senators were present. Senate procedures allow the sponsor to keep asking for a new vote. That should happen tomorrow, when more Senators will be present. It’s looking like the bill will come out of committee with a “do pass” recommendation.

Our concern? This expressed support for a better civil procedure is just lip service. Landlords have had four years to come up with a streamlined eviction procedure. This SB 25 isn’t a stop gap. It’s a way to continue to block tenants’ rights and keep the playing field slanted towards landlords. Any time drafters representing only landlord groups, including the Arkansas Realtors Association, draft statutes they are unfairly biased against tenants.  The bills and laws that result have caused Arkansas to have the most unfair landlord-tenant laws in the United States. SB 25 does nothing to change that statement.

Please urge Senate Judiciary Committee members and your Senator to vote NO on SB 25, as amended.

If you have, thank you! And a big thanks to the Citizens First Congress representatives who were at the hearing, as well as to the people who testified against SB 25 and most of all to the Senator who voted against it.

Contact Senate Judiciary Members NOW to Oppose Senate Bill 25

Arkansas is the only state make it a crime for a renter to be late in making a rent payment. Under the failure to vacate statute, a tenant who is even one day late on a rent payment forfeits any security deposit or prepaid rent and can be convicted of a crime. Several courts have found the law to be unconstitutional, and Senate Bill 25 is an attempt to keep this a crime in Arkansas. Here are just a few more reasons why this bill would make for bad law:

    • SB25 doesn’t even give courts the power to evict tenants. If a tenant misses a rent payment and refuses to leave, the only legal option available is to charge the tenant with more misdemeanor offenses.
    • Arkansas treats all other contract disputes, like late mortgage or car payments, as civil matters.
    • Prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officials should be able to focus their resources on catching criminals, not enforcing private contracts.
    • Taxpayers should not have to subsidize free lawyers for landlords who use criminal evictions.

Arkansas already has a civil eviction law in place. If landlords want easier, more effective procedures for evicting tenants who don’t pay, this is the law that should be amended. Call or email the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee TODAY to tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 25:

Jeremy Hutchinson (Chair): 501-773-3760, Jeremy.Hutchinson@senate.ar.gov
Linda Collins-Smith (Vice Chair): 870-378-1434, linda.collins-smith@senate.ar.gov
Will Bond: 501-396-5400, will.bond@senate.ar.gov
Trent Garner: 870-818-9219, Trent.Garner@senate.ar.gov
Bryan King: 870-438-4565, bryan.king@senate.ar.gov
Terry Rice: 479-637-3100, terry.rice@senate.ar.gov
Greg Standridge: 479-968-1562, greg.standridge@senate.ar.gov
Gary Stubblefield: 479-635-4314, gary.stubblefield@senate.ar.gov

House Bill 1166 Assigned to Insurance & Commerce

After lawmakers returned to the Capitol after the MLK holiday, HB 1166–the so-called “Implied Quality Standards” bill–was assigned to the House Insurance and Commerce Committee. Eight of the bill’s sponsors (including lead sponsor Rep. Laurie Rushing) are members of that committee.

If enacted, HB1166 would NOT create a warranty of habitability. In other words, it would not require a rental property to even be fit for human habitation. The standards it establish  fall far below what reputable landlords routinely provide for their rental properties.

The bill’s sponsors and members of the House Insurance and Commerce Committee need to know that HB1166 does not make things better for Arkansas renters. Below is the contact information for committee members, as well as a sample email or letter that you can write to your own legislators, to the sponsors, or to the members of the committee that will take up the bill.

Sample Email:

Re: Please Fix HB1166

Dear Rep. ________:

I am writing to about House Bill 1166, which is supposed to put quality standards in place for rental homes and apartments. This bill leaves out some of the most basic standards that all other states require for residential rental properties. Most concerning to me is that it doesn’t require landlords to make any repairs, even if the tenant’s health or safety are at risk. There are several other major problems with this bill:

    • It doesn’t require the rental property to be safe, structurally sound, or even livable.
    • It doesn’t require common areas to be kept safe or fit for use.
    • A tenant’s only remedy if a landlord doesn’t follow the law is to to ask for termination of the lease and move out. They cannot withhold rent to make repairs, seek damages from a court, or even ask a court to require the landlord to make repairs.
    • It doesn’t protect tenants from landlords who might retaliate against a tenant for complaining about the condition of the property or making a report to housing code enforcement officials, increasing rent, decreasing services, or even evicting the tenant.

I believe that most landlords and property managers provide rental properties that far exceed what HB 1166 requires. I would urge you to consider adding provisions to provide minimum standards that good landlords already provide.

Sincerely,

_______________________

For a list of contact information of the bill’s cosponsors, click here and scroll to the bottom of the post.

Below is the contact information for the members of the House Insurance & Commerce Committee:

Rep. Charlie Collins, Chair, email, 479-283-9303
Rep. Robin Lundstrum, Vice Chair, email, 479-957-1959
Rep. Eddie Armstrong, email, 866-980-9438
Rep. Les Eaves, email, 501-827-1344
Rep. Joe Farrer, email, 501-743-6855
Rep. Deborah Ferguson, email, 870-735-7098
Rep. Ken Henderson, email, 479-970-4850
Rep. Grant Hodges, email, 479-381-9513
Rep. Joe Jett, email, 870-276-5319
Rep. Mark Lowery, email, 501-837-5221
Rep. John Maddox, email, 479-394-6060
Rep. Austin McCollum, email, 479-426-4141
Rep. Reginald Murdock, email, 870-295-3208
Rep. John Payton, email, 501-362-5815
Rep. Chris Richey, email, 870-995-2499
Rep. Marcus E. Richmond, email, 479-299-4416
Rep. Laurie Rushing (primary sponsor), email, 501-545-6066
Rep. Jim Sorvillo, email, 501-551-9571
Rep. DeAnn Vaught, email, 870-832-2638
Rep. Les Warren, email, 501-623-5165

Arkansas Can Do Better Than House Bill 1166

House Bill 1166 filed by Rep. Laurie Rushing says that it creates “implied quality standards” for residential rental properties. Such standards come nowhere close to the bare minimum that all other states require. These standards also fall fall short of what good landlords routinely provide. So what’s missing? Here are just a few examples of the most glaring problems.

  • First, and most important, the bill does not require the rental property to be safe, structurally sound, or even livable.
  • The bill does not require landlords to comply with building and housing codes that materially affect health or safety.
  • The bill fails to provide for common areas to be kept safe and fit for use.
  • The landlord has no obligation to make any repairs.
  • A tenant’s sole remedy if a landlord doesn’t follow the law is to to ask for termination of the lease and move out. She cannot withhold rent to make repairs, seek damages from a court, or even ask a court to require the landlord to make repairs.
  • A landlord is free to retaliate against a tenant who complains to the landlord about the condition of the property or makes a report to housing code enforcement officials by increasing rent, decreasing services, or even evicting the tenant.

Arkansas renters deserve better than this. Call HB 1166’s sponsors and tell them to fix the bill so that these most basic protections are included:

Rep. Laurie Rushing (primary sponsor), email, 501-545-6066
Rep. Rick Beck, email, 501-912-1441
Rep. Mary Bentley, email, 501-333-2297
Rep. Ken Bragg, email, 870-942-5269
Rep. David Branscum, email, 870-448-2408
Rep. Charlie Collins, email, 479-283-9303
Rep. Dan Douglas, email, 479-619-9231
Rep. Andy Davis, email, 501-837-5109
Rep. Jim Dotson, email, 479-644-0740
Rep. R. Trevor Drown, email, 479-857-2498
Rep. Les Eaves, email, 501-827-1344
Rep. David Fielding, email, 870-234-6143
Rep. Mickey Gates, email, 501-623-1100
Rep. Ken Henderson, email, 479-970-4850
Rep. Mike Holcomb, email, 870-489-7177
Rep. Joe Jett, email, 870-276-5319
Rep. Jack Ladyman, email, 870-340-7280
Rep. Tim Lemons, email, 501-605-7565
Rep. Mark Lowery, email, 501-837-5221
Rep. Milton Nicks, email, 870-739-5360
Rep. Rebecca Petty, email, 479-621-3464
Rep. Johnny Rye, email, 870-919-3690
Rep. Jim Sorvillo, email, 501-551-9571
Rep. Nelda Speaks, email, 870-421-2552
Rep. James Sturch, email, 870-612-7589
Rep. Dwight Tosh, email, 870-926-0423
Rep. Les Warren, email, 501-623-5165

Tell Senate Judiciary to Vote NO on SB 25

As we’ve detailed here and as reported here, Senate Bill 25 is an attempt to keep criminal evictions alive in Arkansas, even though the law authorizing this practice has been declared unconstitutional. You can read the bill for yourself here. SB25 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee; you can voice your opposition by calling or emailing members of that committee. A sample email and contact information follows.

Sample Email:

RE: Please Vote Against Senate Bill 25

Dear Senator ____________,

I am opposed to Senate Bill 25, which amends Arkansas’s failure to vacate statute in two ways by (1) removing the requirement that tenants make payments into a court registry or face greater criminal penalties upon conviction; and (2) adding a provision to allow a criminal court to issue a writ of possession or a “court order to evict the tenant from the leased premises.”

If SB 25 is enacted, Arkansas will remain the only state to criminalize nonpayment of rent.  Our limited law enforcement resources should be used to fight crime, not to enforce civil contracts.  Just as Arkansas does not criminally prosecute individuals who miss a mortgage payment or a car note payment, criminal prosecution is not appropriate for missed rent payments.  This statute effectively subsidizes landlords, who don’t have to hire attorneys to sue to evict. Taxpayers foot the bill for prosecuting attorneys who handle these cases.

Civil contract disputes should be resolved by civil courts.  Arkansas already has a civil eviction law—the unlawful detainer statute—that allows a civil judge to issue a writ of possession.  For cases of nonpayment, a writ of possession can be ordered less than ten days from the date of the missed payment.  In contrast, a failure to vacate case cannot begin until at least eleven days after a missed payment.  Using civil courts for evictions is more efficient because the court can resolve all the issues between the landlord and tenant in one case.

SB 25 does not fix the problems with Arkansas’s eviction laws.  If enacted as written, SB 25 will likely face legal challenges that would leave Arkansas with a patchwork eviction system for another two years.  Three Arkansas judges have said that the existing failure to vacate statute is entirely unconstitutional.  Amending just one part of the statute will not fix this.  Adding a process for eviction to a criminal law may create new problems, because an eviction is not a criminal sanction.

I urge you to oppose this bill.  Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Very truly yours,
____________________

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, Chair, (501) 773-3760, email
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, Vice Chair, (870) 378-1434, email
Sen. Will Bond, (501) 396-5400, email
Sen. Trent Garner, (870) 818-9219, email
Sen. Bryan King, (870) 438-4565, email
Sen. Terry Rice, (479) 637-3100, email
Sen. Greg Standridge, (479) 968-1562, email
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, (479) 635-4314, email