If You Rent, Read This!
Do you rent a house or apartment? If so, you need to know that Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws of any state in the nation.
For example, we have no implied warranty of habitability. What that means is that a landlord can rent a house to you that is not even livable!
We are solely a “buyer-beware” state. Landlords can hide problems that you won’t discover until you move in. And the landlord has no obligation to repair any defects that you find, or that arise while you occupy the premises.
The Law Needs To Change
During the last two sessions of the Arkansas Legislature, tenants’ rights groups have worked hard to pass a habitability statute, but the current majority of our state legislators has not agreed. That needs to change!
You Can’t Withhold The Rent
Even if the house or apartment you rent has construction issues, you do not have the right to hold back the rent until the landlord fixes it. Withholding rent, or even partial rent, is grounds for eviction! If you don’t pay your rent, including late fees, that is a breach of the lease agreement and you can be evicted and lose your deposit as well.
It Is A Crime To Stay In Your Home And Not Pay The Rent!
Arkansas is the only state in the union with a criminal eviction statute. It is a crime for a tenant to stay in possession of a residence if he or she has not paid rent. You could go to jail! No other state does this.
Pulaski County made the decision at the county level to not enforce the criminal eviction statute. So in Pulaski County, the only way to be evicted is under a civil statute called “Unlawful Detainer.” You can still be evicted but at least it’s not a criminal procedure.
What If I Get Served An Eviction Notice?
It’s called a “Notice of Intent to Issue a Writ of Possession.” Once served, you have five days to object to having to move. And you have thirty days to object to having a judgment rendered against you for past rent and/or damages. A judgment lasts for many years, accruing interest at the rate of 10%, so it can grow very high after a short period of time. A judgement will affect your ability to rent future places. It can hurt your credit and can result in wage and bank garnishments. We will post more articles soon about judgments, how they work and what to do about them.
Can’t I Object To An Eviction Notice?
Of course you can object. The question is, should you.
You can file an objection to the Notice of Intent to Issue a Writ of Possession, and submit your rent money to the court at the same time). The court will hold your money in trust pending a resolution of your objection. Realistically though, there’s no benefit to objecting to an eviction if you have not paid the rent in full. The law doesn’t give you very much wiggle room.
If you don’t object to eviction, and don’t leave the premises, the Clerk will issue the Writ and the Sheriff will post it on your door. After that happens you have 24 hours to vacate and if you don’t, the Sheriff will come back with the landlord and supervise you being escorted off the property and the locks changed.
What About The Money?
Although there is little to be gained by protesting eviction, there can be a huge benefit to fighting the money portion of an Unlawful Detainer. If you have not paid rent, you will be forced to move. Instead of spending money on a lawyer to fight the eviction, you’d be better off using that money to find a new place and move so you don’t get locked out and lose your possessions.
You see, the landlord can sell your personal belongings and apply the sales proceeds toward the past due rent, plus his attorney’s fees and the costs associated with the eviction. Not only will you have to pay the costs and lawyer fees that the landlord incurs, plus the rent for the time you were in the residence without paying, but also the rent for all the months remaining on your lease even if you move out or are evicted! So if you sign a one year lease and are evicted or move out six months in, you are still responsible for the future six months that you agreed to pay for the residence. Landlords will also add on the cleaning expenses and any alleged damages.
The wisest thing to do could be to move out quickly, taking your possessions with you, and then fight the money part of the case. If you don’t object to what the landlord says you owe, then the Court will assume everything that the landlord alleges is correct.
Eviction Happens A Lot
At least weekly our law firm receives calls from tenants being evicted and we have to explain the situation. It is tough emotionally, but legally there is not a lot to be done to fight an eviction. We could delay, make the process harder, longer, and more expensive for the landlord, but we can’t stop it forever and it would be more expensive for you, too. The money you’d spend objecting to an eviction is not the best use of funds in this situation.
What’s the Lesson?
The lesson here is to be very picky about where you choose to rent and from whom you choose to lease. Check out reviews online, on Google, on their websites, on the Better Business Bureau and with the Arkansas Attorney General.
Once you sign a lease and move in, you have no recourse if you don’t like the space or it’s not in good shape.
Get Involved and Let’s Change The Law
The rest of the lesson is, get involved in local politics. With more grassroots support we can hopefully get a habitability statute passed in 2020 so landlords have to make sure the spaces they rent for folks to live in are actually LIVE-ABLE!
Call For A Free Case Evaluation
Case evaluations are completely free; our fees are flat and affordable. Call Leigh Law today at (501) 227-ROAR or Email Us to ensure that you are making wise decisions under the circumstances.