Creating a permanent underclass isn’t easy, even though we have several avenues open to us. Low wages and job benefits, discrimination in the workplace, dismantling the social safety net and, of course, destroying the power of unions are long-time weapons of choice.

But it never seems to be enough, or go completely according to schedule.

Fortunately, some cities in our midst have found a new way to move folks into that underclass – with a permanent black mark on their record, for all the world to see, too.

Delinquent Renters Fall Afoul Of Law
Springdale Pushes To Move Scofflaws Out
Northwest Arkansas Times (March 6)

This heart-warming article, which makes reference to the “landlord-tenant “relationship” (a relationship never built on equal terms in Arkansas), talks about how Springdale City Attorney Jeff Harper proposes put his office at the service of landlords in an intriguing new way.

Have at you, scofflaws!

At least one definition of “scofflaw” I found was “a contemptuous law violator.” Wow. A certain amount of prejudice in the headline, there.

According to the article:

Harper relies on a different option. He uses state criminal law to encourage those who fail to pay rent or vacate to move out. The law requires a landlord to give a tenant notice to pay their back rent or move.

After making sure the landlord has given notice and waited 10 days, Harper’s office sends a police officer to issue the tenant a citation.

The law does not allow renters to be evicted, but they can be fined $25 per day, Harper said.

“Most people, after they receive the notice, will move,” Harper said.

According to the article, if the renter (you know, the one rolling in dough) wants to contest that they owe the back rent they must deposit with the court the amount of money that the landlord says they owe, which is then held by the court. If you are found not guilty, you get the money back.

Don’t try taking this to court without putting your money in the machine, though. If you lose the case and haven’t deposited the cash, you can be charged with a misdemeanor.

What is especially disturbing here is that not only will the City Attorney and his staff be working as enforcers for landlords, but they will automatically accept their word as to how much money is in question. What if the renter disputes the amount?

Tell it to the judge.

Maybe, just for fun, the paper could follow up with an article about how easy it is to fall behind on one’s rent, particularly in these precarious times. Or utilities, insurance, car payments or any number of things that so many of us take for granted.

Even keeping our cars filled up with gas can be a real struggle for many families.

$25 a day? When you are already behind on your rent?

I’m sorry. That’s just monstrous.

Will the Fighting City Attorney be equally as obliging when renters come to him with complaints that landlords have not returned their deposits, or have not effected repairs to their living quarters that were promised weeks or months before?

Will landlords have legal black marks on their records? Will they be charged $25 a day when they do not comply with returning deposits, or make repairs?

Other cities follow the same sort of pattern, even Fayetteville, the progressive New York City of the Ozarks, though here we don’t make the poor saps put any money up before they contest their landlord’s claims.

Yeah, not much consolation. That’s why God made Civil Court, so that cities wouldn’t be landlord’s enforcers.


Quote of the Day

Clothes make the poor invisible too: America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever seen . . . It is much easier in the United States to be decently dressed than it is to be decently housed, fed, or doctored. Even people with terribly depressed incomes can look prosperous. – Michael Harrington, “The Other America”