A CLOSER LOOK: evictions increase even with COVID-19 moratorium; tenant stories

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In July, 136 of 270 civil evictions were filed against female tenants

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — More than 275 evictions were filed in Arkansas in July, in June, there were 233, according to Lynn Foster. The former University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor has been tracking evictions since the start of the pandemic in March.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security
Act (CARES Act) moratorium that offers federal assistance to tenants is close to ending, for now.

Congress has until August 24 to decide how to proceed with the eviction ban created by the CARES Act.

As of July 25, landlords can file evictions, but cannot actually evict until August 25. There is an exception, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac extended their moratoriums for single-family housing until at least August 31.

“Currently, 22 states still have eviction moratoriums in force, and 36 states have established emergency funds to assist renters,” Foster said. “Arkansas has not done the former and has only minimally done the latter.”

Usually, tenants who are evicted in Arkansas don’t have an attorney, nor a right to a hearing, because of the state’s Unlawful Detainer eviction law (§ 18-60-304, actions constituting unlawful detainer). This requires tenants to pay the court one month’s rent before a hearing is allowed.

UNLAWFUL DETAINER STATUTE

Only 40 tenants filed answers to civil evictions in July, of the 270. The Unlawful Detainer statute makes it difficult for a tenant to get a hearing before a judge because it’s required for a tenant to pay rent to the court in order to obtain a hearing.

Only one Circuit Court Judge, Chip Welch, Little Rock Division 16, has announced that he will not issue a writ of possession unless there is a hearing first because of the pandemic. “This brings more fairness into the Unlawful Detainer proceeding,” said Foster.

Ninety-three Arkansas evictions filed in July, and 74 in June, did not comply with the Supreme Court’s order and affirmatively pleaded that the property was not covered by the CARES Act. “In the few cases where tenants are represented by an attorney, this deficiency will be caught,” said Foster. “Few courts are catching the defective complaints.”

Pixabay file photo

JULY TENANT STORIES

Washington County Circuit Court:

“I was served papers to move. And have 5 days to appeal it. I am housing auth. Section 8. My 15 2020 just turned 16 and I have been looking for a place every single day. I called my caseworker many, many times if he knew any 2 bedrooms [in Springdale]. He said NO! So I had to sign up on Fayetteville housing. When you’re on housing section 8, first have to find a place, then they have to figure the bills and the rent with my income bracket. Plus it’s almost impossible to find any places that take housing. Couldn’t afford a U haul. My landlord since April been knocking ringing doorbell harassing us every day and I’m on SSI. I had no [working] garbage disposal, cockroaches infested! We had so many things need worked on or fixed but she wouldn’t hire anyone to fix. There is mildew. . . the toilet always overflowed and flooded the master bedroom, bathroom, and came up in a bathtub. Housing Authority told her to fix the things.”

 UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Craighead County Circuit Court:

COVID 19 soon shut everything down and I was unable to reach the college I was to be attending and receiving funds from. My start date was pushed from March to May, leaving me without any income. I filed for unemployment, food stamps and began putting in applications for programs to assist with housing such as federal grants, state grants, and loans, etc. I have completed the application for HUD assistance, as well. I was to go to work part-time to help with bills until school began, however, the job was shut down due to COVID-19 then was hit by the tornado. I have worked cleaning houses but was not able to continue due to COVID-19. Not once has [the landlord] made contact with me. I have not received one phone call or had one visit in person from [the landlord] until I opened the door to receive papers for a lawsuit. When attempting to communicate with [an employee of the landlord], who was extremely rude to me, she would not allow me to talk to her about anything. [She] said, “let me stop you right there, you need to get
your a** out of there!” I did not disrespect [her] nor did I cuss her. However, she cussed me multiple times during the call.”

 UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Washington County Circuit Court:

“I had a verbal agreement with [the landlord] that I would pay the money owed when I received my workman’s comp check for $10,000. I received the check and it was dated March 7, 2020, and I could not cash or deposit it because it was already 120 days old. Due to court being backed up due to the coronavirus. I am waiting on my new check to be mailed to me. [The landlord] went against their verbal agreement and evicted me on Monday, July 27th; even though I have lived there since 2005. I have always paid my rent on time during the 15 years I have resided at the residence. I did not receive my entitled compensation on time due to the coronavirus and this is why my rent has not been paid. If not for the pandemic the rent would have never been late. I was also charged $600 eviction fee and I was told to leave by July 27th even though I am being charged for the whole month of July. As a hardworking, law-abiding citizen, I am being forced to move into a hotel and being evicted despite the verbal agreement with [the landlord]. I am working full time again as an essential worker but [the landlord] is still evicting me when I am receiving the money to resolve the past due rent.”

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Ways to evict tenants. 3 types of legal eviction proceedings are used in Arkansas:

  1. Unlawful detainers, which are tracked through Court Connect. The above tenants were all sued in unlawful detainer.
  2. Civil evictions are pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 18-17-901, most of which are not tracked on Court Connect, because most district courts are not on Court Connect. Not all district courts hear these types of evictions. No one knows how many do or don’t.
  3. Failure to vacate criminal offenses heard by district courts, most of which are not tracked on Court Connect, because most district courts are not on Court Connect. Not all district courts allow this type of charge to be brought. No one knows how many do. Arkansas is the only state that makes what is essentially nonpayment of rent to be a crime.
    If a tenant lives in a jurisdiction that allows more than one type of eviction procedure, who decides which will be used? The landlord.

Counties that filed the most evictions in July:

  • Pulaski: 92
  • Craighead: 30
  • Washington: 25
  • Crawford: 17
  • Benton: 14

LANDLORDS WHO APPEAR TO HAVE VIOLATED THE CARES ACT, ACCORDING TO COURT CONNECT:

  • Trinity Property Management in Springdale
  • Highpoint Apartments in Fayetteville
  • Jordan Living Apartments in Fayetteville
  • Maple Manor Apartments in Fayetteville
  • Shadow Lake Apartments in Russellville
  • The Ridge at Texarkana Apartments in Texarkana
  • Willow Bend Apartments in Jacksonville
  • Pleasant Ridge Apartments in Little Rock
  • Auxora Arms Apartments in Little Rock
  • McKenzie Part Apartments in Little Rock
  • West Wood Apartments in Little Rock
  • Canopy Apartments in Little Rock

In July, three writs of possession were issued against tenants living in Jordan Living Apartments in Fayetteville, which is a
Freddie-Mac mortgage-backed property.

Foster found that more women tenants are evicted compared to men tenants or couples.

  • April: 60 evictions of all types (50%) were filed against women.
  • May: 68 of 154 evictions of all types (43%) were filed against women.
  • June: 118 of 228 civil evictions (52%) were filed against women.
  • July: 136 of 270 civil evictions (60%) were filed against women.

April through July Writs of Possession Issued

In May, Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “If you can’t pay your rent because of losing your job, lack of income, or because of COVID-19, there is help for you.”

“Tenants who face eviction must apply for aid from local community agencies,” said Foster. “For example, in Pulaski County and 18 other counties covered by the Central Arkansas Development Council (CADC) the maximum available is $500.”

A total of $170 million would be needed, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). From May to September 2020, $52.5 million would be needed for 126,027 renters. October to December, $40.7 million will be needed for 98,850 renters.

NLIHC: “Across Arkansas, there is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income households (ELI), whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income (AMI). Many of these households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing. Severely cost burdened poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent, and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions.”

FOSTER’S RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • For the state to set up a web page for rent assistance and publicize it.
  • Have a central source where tenants apply, online.
  • Allow assistance to continue for those who can’t find new jobs ore return to their old jobs immediately.
  • Set qualifications so more people are eligible.

A CLOSER LOOK: Arkansas evictions during COVID-19; tenant stories

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