A commission created during the last regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly to study, review, and report on the landlord-tenant laws in Arkansas and other states has issued a report recommending significant changes to those laws in Arkansas. The Non-Legislative Commission on the Study of Landlord-Tenant Laws, established by Act 1198 of 2011, released its report last week after nine months of study. Calling existing laws in Arkansas "significantly out of balance," the report proposes fifteen major reforms intended to even the playing field between landlords and tenants. "Tenants have fewer rights in Arkansans than in any other state," said Commission member and UALR William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster. Foster also serves on the national Uniform Laws Commission, which adopted a Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act in 1972 that has been enacted in twenty-one other states.
Commission members included appointees of the Arkansas Realtors Association, the Landlords' Association of Arkansas, the Affordable Housing Association of Arkansas, the Governor, the Arkansas House of Representatives, the Arkansas Senate, the Arkansas Bar Association, and the deans of the University of Arkansas and UALR Bowen School of Law. The Governor's appointee, Stephen Giles, a Little Rock real estate attorney, chaired the Commission.
Among the Arkansas Commission's unanimous recommendations are reforms that would address features of current law that are unique to Arkansas: its criminal eviction statute its absent implied warranty of habitability.
"Arkansas is the only state in which it is actually a crime for a tenant to fail to pay rent," said Foster. Arkansas also has no implied warranty of habitability, meaning that landlords are under no legal obligation to make property that they lease to tenants safe or livable. "This can have serious consequences for the health and safety of Arkansas families who are completely without recourse under current law."
Specifically, the Commission recommends repeal of the criminal eviction statute, in conjunction with implementation of a streamlined civil eviction process, and enactment of an implied warranty of habilitability. Other recommendations include changes that would bring existing law more in line with the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act.
"There are good landlords out there who already voluntarily include many of these recommended protections in their lease agreements," said Commission Chair Stephen Giles. "If implemented, these recommended reforms will not only put landlords and tenants on more equal footing, but also make it more dificult for unscrupulous landlords to compete with the good ones."
"We are pleased to see these recommendations," said Chris Albin-Lackey, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch. "In particular, the commission was right to recommend repeal of Arkansas's draconian failure-to-pay-rent law, which tramples on the rights of tenants and brands people as criminals for falling behind on their rent." Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights around the world. The organization conducted a study of the human rights impact of Arkansas's criminal eviction statute in 2012. Its findings will be released in a February 2013 report, according to Albin-Lackey.
The UALR Law Review is hosting a symposium on February 1, 2013, that will explore Arkansas law and policy concerning tenants rights, including the findings of the Commission report. Registration is free and open to the public, and will include CLE credits for attorneys who participate.