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 out.”
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.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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