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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Abusive Arkansas law jails tenants who don't pay their rent

Jail wall

Under a state law in 

Arkansas, renters can be 

imprisoned for failing to 

pay their rent. According 

to a report by Human 

Rights Watch, titled "Pay 

the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas's 

Criminal Evictions Law," hundreds of tenants each year 

are taken to court, fined and jailed under the state's 

"failure to vacate" law. 

"The failure-to-vacate law was used to bring charges 

against more than 1,200 Arkansas tenants in 2012 

alone," read the report. "This figure greatly understates 

the total number of people impacted by the law. The vast 

majority of tenants scramble to move out when faced 

with a 10-day notice to vacate rather than face trial - and 

with good reason." 

The report continued, "Making matters considerably 

worse, the law strongly discourages accused tenants 

from pleading not guilty. Those who do are required to 

deposit the total amount of rent they allegedly owe with 

the court, which they forfeit if they are found guilty. 

Tenants who are unable to deposit the rent amount but 

plead not guilty anyway face substantially harsher fines 

and up to 90 days in jail. Tenants who plead guilty face 

none of this." 

Landlords and corrupt public officials have frequently 

abused the law, which is unlike landlord-tenant law in 

any other state in the union. HRW reported, "Several of 

the tenants interviewed for this report were confronted 

at home or at work by police officers who had warrants 

for their arrest. One woman was berated in open court 

by a district judge, who compared her to a bank robber." 

Another woman was repeatedly charged under the law 

based on false reports from the man she bought her 

house from, even though she had paid for it in full. In 

another situation, "Human Rights Watch interviewed one 

tenant whose landlord got an arrest warrant issued 

against her just three days after ordering her to move 


According to the Arkansas Times, a state commission 

recommended changes to the law in January. Calling 

Arkansas landlord-tenant law "significantly out of 

balance," the non-legislative study group urged 15 major 

reforms "intended to even the playing field between 

landlords and tenants."
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