ARKANSAS — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Arkansas over the state’s eviction law.
Arkansas is the only state where a tenant can be criminally charged for not paying rent on time, after being notified by a landlord.
However, it is rare for renters to actually be arrested and charged with a crime. The ACLU still says the law is unconstitutional and should be taken off the books.
“It pressures the tenant into leaving their property and does not allow them any defense in criminal court other than the fact that they actually pay their rent,” says Holly Dickson, the legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas.
In every other state, eviction is an issue that’s left up to the civil courts.
But since 2001, tenants in Arkansas can be charged in criminal court if they don’t pay their rent on time and don’t vacate their residence within ten days of being notified by a landlord.
“Anybody who rents their home in Arkansas, and about a third of Arkansans rent their homes, are subject to this law and it could be a problem for them,” says State Representative Greg Leding.
Many counties don’t actively enforce this law. Benton and Washington counties leave the matter to civil courts. But the ACLU says the law needs to be changed to protect tenants.
“Most often the tenants are pressured by the threat of charges such that they move out,” Dickson says.
The most recent effort to reform this law was a bipartisan bill drafted in 2017. The bill was unsuccessful, partly because of lobbying efforts by the Arkansas Board of Realtors.
“We want landlords to get paid, people do need to pay their rent, but in circumstances where somebody is just not able to make it on the day its due, there should be some sort of process that allows them to work through that situation,” Leding says.
The law was revised in 2017 but kept the provision for criminal charges. The ACLU then amended their lawsuit to challenge the revised law.
A representative with Lindsey Management Company says they never use the criminal process during an eviction.