Landlord-tenant law is divided into two types: residential and commercial. Because commercial landlord-tenant law is governed mostly by the law of contracts, this discussion is restricted in scope to residential landlord-tenant law. Landlord-tenant relations are regulated generally by state law as opposed to federal, although a few relevant federal laws, most notably the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), preempt any conflicting state law. Public and Section 8 housing is also regulated mostly by federal law.
About half of the states have enacted the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which was adopted by the Uniform Law Commission in 1972. Since then, the uniform law was repeatedly introduced in Arkansas to no avail, but in 2007 the legislature enacted portions of the uniform law that were favorable to landlords, while failing to enact any tenant-favorable provisions. Residential tenants have fewer rights in Arkansas than in most, if not all, other states, but there have been no organized attempts to reform Arkansas landlord-tenant law.
A tenant is considered to be the owner of an “estate in land,” a presently possessory type of property interest. There are four types of tenancies, but the most common types are the term of years (or fixed-term) tenancy and the periodic tenancy. The former is created if the rental agreement specifies an end date. Such a tenancy ends on the date specified in the lease, although if the tenant stays on and continues to pay rent and the landlord accepts the rent, a new periodic tenancy is formed. The latter is created typically by payment of rent on a periodic basis (once a year, once a month, or once a week) and no agreed- on end date at the outset. To terminate a residential monthly periodic tenancy, the landlord or tenant must give the other party a written notice specifying a termination date at least thirty days in the future. A rental agreement may be either written or oral. If it is for a duration of more than one year, it must be written to be enforceable.
Both federal law (the Fair Housing Act) and state law (the Arkansas Fair Housing Act of 2001) forbid discrimination in the rental of housing. Protected classifications under the federal law are race, color, religion, sex, familial status, and national origin. In addition, landlords must make reasonable accommodations in rules and services for persons with disabilities, and a landlord may not prohibit a tenant with disabilities from making modifications of premises to be occupied if they are reasonable and the tenant pays for them, although a landlord may require the tenant to restore the premises at the end of the term of the lease.
The law implies certain terms in a lease, although some may be overridden by the parties. A tenant has an implied duty to pay rent, even if a lease does not so specify. A tenant has an implied duty not to commit “waste” or damage to the premises. A tenant also has a duty to perform the terms of the lease. Additionally, Arkansas statutes require residential tenants to comply with applicable provisions of housing codes and to keep premises safe and clean. Tenants must allow reasonable access to landlords to enter rental premises for a variety of purposes, including repairs, “decorations,” supplying services, and investigating possible criminal activity, to name a few. Tenants may not engage in or permit illegal activities on the premises. Under Arkansas statutes, a landlord may sue to terminate the lease and evict a tenant if the tenant fails to pay the rent or violates the terms of the lease. Of course, a landlord may also successfully sue to evict a tenant if the lease has ended and the tenant is illegally holding over.
Additional laws apply to a tenant who causes or permits a common nuisance or criminal offense on the premises. Such a tenant may be subject to a suit for eviction not only by the landlord but also by a prosecuting attorney, if the tenant is afforded notice and the right to a hearing.
Similarly, the law implies duties on the part of a landlord, such as the duty to deliver actual possession of the premises to a tenant at the beginning of their lease term. The only obligation imposed upon landlords by Arkansas’s version of the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant act is that they comply with statutes regulating security deposits. By statute, landlords may charge security deposits up to the amount of two months’ rent. Arkansas law is notable in its lack of an implied warranty of habitability for residential leased premises. As do many other states, Arkansas has an implied warranty of workmanship for new housing that is sold. However, Arkansas has no similar requirement for rental housing. Arkansas is the only state that does not require a minimal level of habitability for rental housing, although federal law requires minimum standards for public and Section 8 housing located in Arkansas.
Some states impose tort liability upon landlords for damage to a tenant’s person or property that is caused either by the condition of the premises or by criminal acts of a third party. Arkansas, like some other states, holds landlords immune from almost all such liability to tenants or their guests.
Tenants who do not pay rent or who otherwise violate terms of a lease or hold over at the end of a lease term may be evicted. Arkansas currently has three statutory eviction procedures: 1) unlawful detainer, 2) an additional civil eviction procedure enacted in 2007, and 3) failure to vacate, the last of which criminalizes a tenant who occupies the premises and fails to pay rent. The last statute is also notable because Arkansas is the only state that criminalizes failure to pay rent. In 2015, as a result of a decision in State of Arkansas v. Artoria Smith, circuit courts in four Arkansas counties (Craighead, Poinsett, Pulaski, and Woodruff) declared this statute to be unconstitutional; about half of Arkansas’s counties refuse to enforce it. A few states today authorize a landlord to use self help to evict a tenant without a court order—for example, by changing the locks. However, in 1986, the Arkansas Supreme Court declared self help illegal in the case of Gorman v. Ratliff.
Finally, a tenant’s personal property on the leased premises is subject to a lien in favor of the landlord for the payment of any money that the tenant agrees to pay the landlord. When a lease terminates, any personal property of the tenant remaining on the premises is deemed abandoned by law, and the landlord can dispose of it without liability.
Attempts to improve landlord-tenant laws in the 2019 session of the Arkansas General Assembly all failed to pass, mostly due to opposition from the Arkansas Realtors Association. The Arkansas Senate even voted down a bill, passed in the Arkansas House, that would have allowed victims of domestic violence to leave a rental residence without the fees typically associated with the termination of a lease. In June 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s criminal eviction law. Another attempt was made in 2021 in the state legislature to improve renters’ rights and to require that landlords maintain rental properties at a certain level of habitability. One bill, HB 1798, which would have ended Arkansas’s unique status as the only state in the nation to make non-payment of rent a criminal matter, failed to make it out of committee on April 5, 2021, while another, HB 594, which would require minimum standards of habitability for rental properties, did succeed in passing the House on April 22, 2021, and the Senate the following week, with amendments, and was signed into law.
On September 2, 2021, the national nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Legal Clinic filed suit in federal court, on behalf of two tenants in Hot Spring County, challenging the constitutionality of the criminal eviction statute. However, in August 2022, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey dismissed the case without prejudice given that the plaintiffs had moved out of state.
On May 22, 2022, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published a report showing that evictions in 2022 were at their highest rate in five years. The report noted that Governor Asa Hutchinson had turned away $86 million in federal housing stability support, part of the pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance program, insisting that such funds were not needed.
For additional information:
Boyd, Colin. “Beyond Repair: The Persistent Unconstitutionality of the Failure to Vacate Statute.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review 44 (Spring 2022): 379–396.
Foster, Lynn. “The Hands of the State: The Failure to Vacate Statute and Residential Tenants’ Rights in Arkansas.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review 36 (Fall 2013): 1–56. Online at http://lawrepository.ualr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=faculty_scholarship (accessed July 15, 2021).
Manus, Wesley N. “Property Law—Landlord-Tenant Law—The Iron Triangle of Residential Leases: Landlords, Tenants, and Economic Policy in America’s Last State without Implied Warranty of Habitability. Alexander Apartments v. City of Little Rock, 60CV-15-6339 (2017).” University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review 41 (Fall 2018): 117–140.
Miller, Maya. “When Falling Behind on Rent Leads to Jail Time.” Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, October 26, 2020. http://arknews.org/index.php/2020/10/26/when-falling-behind-on-rent-leads-to-jail-time/ (accessed July 15, 2021).
Monk, Ginny. “‘Habitable’ Not in Rules for State Landlords.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 8, 2018, p. 6A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/08/habitable-not-in-rules-for-state-landlo/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
———.”State Eviction Law Drawing Challenge.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 1, 2021, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/mar/01/state-eviction-law-drawing-challenge/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
———. “Study Links Sick Tenants to Run-Down Apartments.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 8, 2018, pp. 1A, 6A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/08/study-links-sick-tenants-to-run-down-ap/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
Moritz, John.”Criminal-Eviction Bill Fails to Get Panel Nod.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 6, 2021, p. 7A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/apr/06/criminal-eviction-bill-fails-to-get-panel-nod/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
———. “House to Consider Rules Establishing Housing Standards.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 18, 2021, p. 4A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/mar/18/house-to-consider-rules-establishing-housing/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
———. “Renter-Rights Bill Finds Bloc of Supporters.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 1, 2021, pp. 1B, 6B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/mar/01/renter-rights-bill-finds-bloc-of-supporters/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
Moss, Teresa, and Tess Vrbin. “’22 Evictions in State at Highest in 5 Years.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 22, 2022, pp. 1A, 7A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/may/22/arkansas-eviction-rate-in-2022-is-highest-in-5/ (accessed May 23, 2022).
Prettyman, Marshall. “The Landlord Protection Act, Arkansas Code §§ 18-17-101 et seq.” Arkansas Law Notes 71 (2008): 71–82.
“A Question of Balance: 40 Years of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and Tenants’ Rights in Arkansas.” Special issue. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review 35 (Summer 2013).
Vrbin, Tess. “Eviction Threatens State-Law Challenge.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 11, 2022, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/feb/11/eviction-threatens-state-law-challenge/ (accessed February 11, 2022).
———. “Lawsuit Targets Law on Evictions.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 12, 2021, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/sep/13/arkansas-unique-eviction-law-source-of-324/ (accessed September 12, 2021).
———. “LR Tenants Describe Poor Living Conditions.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 29, 2021, pp. 1B, 2B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/29/lr-tenants-describe-poor-living-conditions/ (accessed July 29, 2021).
———. “Mold, Sewage, Broken Appliances among Tenants’ Problems in Properties Whose Owner Faces AG Lawsuit.” Arkansas Advocate, September 20, 2022. https://arkansasadvocate.com/2022/09/20/mold-sewage-broken-appliances-among-tenants-problems-in-properties-whose-owner-faces-ag-lawsuit (accessed September 20, 2022).
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
William H. Bowen School of Law
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