WILL THE LANDLORD LOBBY WIN AGAIN? A popular meme of past unsuccessful efforts to improve the law for rental residents in Arkansas is worth considering again as reform legislation faces competition from landlord-friendly bill.

We’ve noted House committee approval of legislation to make Arkansas no longer the only state without statutory safety standards for rental housing. And we’ve noted introduction of legislation by Rep. Nicole Clowney to erase the criminal eviction (“failure to vacate”) statute, the only one of its kind in the country.

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The landlord/real estate lobby is fighting back.

See HB 1769, introduced Thursday, by Rep. Spencer Hawks and Sen. Jonathan Dismang. Its elements include habitability and a change to the existing eviction provisions (though not removal of criminal evictions). It is on a fast track, with a hearing in committee Monday morning

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Lynn Foster, the retired law professor who’s worked for years to improve landlord-tenant law in Arkansas, is critical. She’s put together an analysis. Some of it is technical, but she says the proposal will make things worse for tenants without redeeming features, except a reform to one eviction statute that many courts don’t enforce.

She said:

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There are no requirements for landlords to do anything about mold, pests, smoke detectors, or carbon monoxide detectors. There’s no requirement for a landlord to repair anything, and if the tenant can’t live there, they can move out. That’s the bill, along with a lot more pro-landlord provisions.

Here’s the analysis:

 

She adds these general comments:

This bill basically requires landlords to supply utilities and not much else, and does not require any repairs. So it will lead to situations where the tenant will be stuck with no repairs and will basically have to decide how long she can stand it before leaving.
This bill will gut the common law doctrine of constructive eviction, one of the few doctrines that tenants can use right now, because it says the “sole remedy” is to terminate the lease, with nothing more. A landlord could turn off utilities or render premises uninhabitable in some other way and force the tenant out.

18-17-501(a) seems to be saying that a landlord doesn’t even have to provide heat or electricity or water at the outset of a lease if there’s a pandemic, tornado, etc., and that a tenant wouldn’t be entitled to the remedy in those cases. Conceivably a house could burn down after being struck by lightning (an act of God or force majeure). 501(a) says the landlord is not required to provide anything in that case. Would the tenant still have to pay rent, because the landlord was off the hook and the tenant was entitled to no remedy? This actually happened recently. The landlord wanted the
tenant to pay the rent through the lease term.

 

Even if a tenant qualifies for a repair, they’ll have to pay for a month of rent for a house without water, electricity, or whatever, and then after moving out wait 60 days for a security deposit, which some problem landlords routinely withhold.

 

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The bill is on the House Insurance and Commerce Committee agenda at 9:30 a.m.