Tenant, beware.

Tenant, beware. Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws of any state in the nation.

Arkansas has no implied warranty of habitability. This means that a landlord can rent a house that is not liveable. We are solely a “buyer-beware” state. Landlords can hide problems that are not discoverable until a tenant moves in—and then has no obligation to repair any issues that exist or arise during the occupancy of the premises. In the last two legislative sessions, tenants’ rights groups have worked without success to pass a habitability statute.

Can I withhold rent without being evicted? 

No, and the outcome for withholding rent and occupying the rental property can be severe.

Even if the residence has construction issues, you do not have the right to withhold rent. Failure to pay all of your rent—including any late fees—is a breach of the lease agreement and will result in eviction, and the loss of your deposit.

Further, Arkansas is the only state in the union with a criminal eviction statute. It is actually 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.

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.”

Civil Evictions

Once served, you will have five days to object to having to move, and 30 days to object to having a judgment for past rent and/or damages rendered against you. A judgment lasts for many years, accrues interest at a 10% rate, and will affect your ability to rent future places. It can result in wage and bank garnishments, which are often reported on your credit.

If you don’t file an objection to the “Notice of Intent to Issue a Writ of Possession” and submit your rent money into the registry of the court at the same time, then the clerk will issue the Writ and the sheriff will post it on your door. After that, you have 24 hours to vacate. If you don’t, the sheriff will come back with the landlord and supervise you being escorted off the property, and the locks will be changed.

Realistically, there’s no benefit to objecting to an eviction if you have not paid rent—because you will be forced to move. Don’t spend money on a lawyer to fight an eviction. That money is best spent finding a new place and moving, so you don’t get locked out. There is a huge benefit to fighting the money portion of an Unlawful Detainer, though.

Personal Belongings

If you are evicted, your landlord can sell your personal belongings and credit the funds toward the past-due rent, attorney’s fees, and costs associated with the eviction.

To be clear, you not only have to pay rent for the time you were in the residence, you are required to pay the costs and lawyer fees that your landlord incurs for the eviction, and you are also responsible for the rent for all remaining months on your lease. Landlords will also add on cleaning expenses and any alleged damages. If you don’t fight the money part of the case, the Court will assume everything the landlord alleges is correct.

Do I need a lawyer?

Every week, our 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 make the process harder, longer, and more expensive for the landlord, but we can’t stop it forever. The money you’d spend hiring us is not the best use of your funds in this situation.

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 your landlord’s website, 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 if it’s not in good shape.

Also, get involved in local politics. With more grassroots support, we can hopefully get a habitability statute passed, so landlords have to make sure the spaces they rent are actually liveable.