Arkansas State Representative Jimmy Gazaway (R) introduced legislation (House Bill 1410) on February 7 that establishes a minimum standard of habitability in the state and provides a list of minimum livable conditions. Arkansas is the only state in the U.S. that does not currently require landlords to make repairs to their rental properties or ensure they are in a livable condition. Arkansans for Fair Landlord Tenant Laws is the coalition leading advocacy efforts to ensure stronger protections for tenants.
Representative Gazaway’s bill outlines rental property standards landlords would be required to maintain, including ones related to electricity, air conditioning, running water, plumbing, and locks. The building would have to be structurally sound and the roof, exterior walls and windows would have to be waterproof. If landlords do not comply with the regulations, tenants could end their lease. If the tenant decided to stay, they could sue the landlord for damages as long as they kept paying their rent to the court, or they could make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the rent.
Currently, Arkansas renters residing municipalities with city codes can submit property complaints to their enforcement departments, but the tenants are not protected from landlord retaliation. It is considered a crime to withhold rent until the landlord fixes the property; tenants who pursued this course in the past faced jail time. The law was changed in recent years, but there are still compounding fees and fines for withholding rent, which can become prohibitively expensive for low-income households.
Arkansans for Fair Landlord Tenant Laws is a coalition of organizations, community groups, and individuals that support changing Arkansas’ residential landlord-tenant laws to correct the balance between landlord and tenant rights. They worked with Representative Gazaway to sponsor H.B. 1410. A landlord himself, Mr. Gazaway has stated that everyone deserves to live in a safe and structurally sound home. The coalition has been active in urging legislators to vote for the bill, sharing personal stories of those living in unsound structures at a press conference held by Representative Gazaway, and gathering signatures for a petition. The coalition hopes the bill will make it through the first legislative hurdle, a vote by 20 lawmakers who sit on the Housing Committee on Insurance and Commerce. The vote could take place as soon as the end of February.
To learn more about H.B. 1410 and the Arkansans for Fair Landlord Tenant Laws Coalition, visit: http://fairpropertylaws.org/