Tag Archives: eviction

A Civil Eviction Bill!

Please check out SB600, sponsored by Senator Will Bond and cosponsored by Representatives Capp and Sabin. The bill creates a streamlined civil eviction procedure, for possession only (landlords are free to sue in small claims court or circuit court for rent; most don’t). Landlords may only bring the action for nonpayment of rent–the grounds for virtually all evictions. Why is this bill so great?

First–It gives tenants the right to cure. If a tenant is late with rent the tenant has three days to pay. Neither the unlawful detainer statute nor the criminal failure to vacate statute give tenants a right to cure.

Second–These complaints can be filed either in circuit court or (if permission has been given by the Supreme Court) in district court. And the form of the complaint is so simple that no attorney will be needed (unless the landlord is an entity like an LLC).

Third–The bill requires the court to schedule the hearing within 21 days of the filing of the complaint. This is similar to the short time period of the current criminal failure to vacate statute and may be even faster in some cases.

Fourth–The tenant gets a real hearing! In an unlawful detainer action, if the tenant can’t understand the archaically-worded form and doesn’t respond, or doesn’t deposit the amount of rent the landlord claims is due into court, the tenant will be evicted. In a criminal failure to vacate hearing the tenant gets a hearing but usually has no right to tell her story, because all the judge asks is whether she has paid the rent and if not whether she is still on the premises. Unlike in unlawful detainer, the tenant can appear in court without having to file anything first.

One objection to unlawful detainer is that tenants could be billed for attorney’s fees. This will only be the case in this procedure if the tenant can’t prove they paid rent or doesn’t assert a defense–in other words, if the tenant is acting in bad faith.

This is a civil procedure, not a criminal one. If the tenant doesn’t appear, a default judgment will simply be issued, unlike in criminal failure to vacate where the judge will swear out a bench warrant, which will result in arrest. Any costs will be civil costs–they will not be criminal fines which carry severe consequences if they are not paid.

The new bill is fairer to both tenants and landlords. Once it has been assigned to a committee, we will post again.

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

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