Tag Archives: criminal eviction

On the Governor’s Desk–Feb. 9

SB 25, which preserves the crime of failure to vacate, is now on the governor’s desk. If signed, will it do all the Arkansas Realtors Association hopes it will do? We think not. Even before the existing law was declared unconstitutional, 1/3 of the counties did not permit landlords to file affidavits under this statute. It’s hard to believe they will reverse course. If signed, the law will not legally permit district court judges to order tenants to actually vacate premises. Therefore, any court-ordered evictions under this new law will be illegal. We may see more cases filed to set aside these illegal evictions. One judge has told us that if forced to hear these cases, he will fine tenants $1 per day and refuse to evict them or to allow landlords to change locks.  It may be that landlords don’t find their lives much easier than they were before.

What is needed? As lobbyists and attorneys for the Arkansas Realtors Association testified, if landlords sue under the current civil unlawful detainer statute, there is often a significant delay before cases are heard. Landlords must pay for the services of an attorney. If the tenant is found liable for unlawful detainer, the tenant will probably be saddled with significant court costs and attorney’s fees. On the other hand, the failure to vacate statute can cause a poor, down-on-her-luck tenant who fails to appear at the arraignment or fails to pay the fine to be hit with even larger criminal fines and even possible jail. And contrary to assertions of folks representing the Arkansas Realtors Association, numerous people have been jailed under the failure to vacate statute–records clearly show this. We guess these folks don’t write a letter to the realtors afterwards, and that’s why the realtors don’t know.

What is needed? A civil statute that allows tenants who have no money to pay to be evicted quickly, but allows tenants who have a legitimate complaint against the landlord their day in court. A civil statute that allows both parties to proceed without attorneys if they wish at the preliminary stages. Such a bill is being drafted now. Legislators paid lip service to the idea that a civil statute would be the best solution, but supported the failure to vacate statute because they said it was the only alternative available. What will they say when asked to sponsor or vote on a better civil statute? We’ll see.

In the meantime we see as in today’s  newspaper that the governor hasn’t yet signed the bill because he is reviewing the bill. Thank you, Governor Hutchinson. We hope you will ask why none of our legislators in the majority party are introducing a civil eviction bill. And we’re not even going to respond to Representative Laurie Rushing’s statement that “Arkansas is progressive” for being the only state that criminalizes failure to vacate. Her comment speaks for itself.

No Vote Yet, So Not Too Late–Feb. 7 the Day

The House did not get to landlord-tenant law today. We are told it was discussing blue and white lights on Christmas trees and the potential for confusion with law enforcement–but we’re sure that can’t be true.

SB 25 remains scheduled for a vote. The House convenes tomorrow at 1:30 according to the Meetings and Events Calendar. So, it’s not too late to contact your representative tonight!

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.