Page 4 of 6
Commission member Foster compares this system to forcing an assault victim to pay a fee in order to bring charges against the assailant. "It's the taxpayers subsidizing the landlords, allowing the landlord to use the prosecutor as their own personal lawyer. It's an inappropriate use of the criminal justice system," she said.
HRW found numerous instances of misuse or abuse of the failure-to-vacate statute. Some landlords refuse to accept rent and then evict for nonpayment. In one case, a West Memphis woman, Charlotte Morton, was in a rent-to-own situation. When her husband died, she lacked one payment in receiving the deed to her house. Since the contract was in his name, the seller refused to recognize it, refused to accept the final payment, and on more than one occasion, has attempted to criminally evict her. Morton has appeared before the court twice. Both times, the charges were dropped, but now Morton fears unexpected knocks at her door.
"The landlord just has to go to the prosecutor with an affidavit, and the county prosecutor looks at them and says, well, if the landlord is telling the truth, this is a violation of the law, so we're going to go ahead and file these charges. ... I don't know why, I assume because most of these offices are overworked and don't have the time to scrutinize these things," Albin-Lackey said.
What tenants don't understand, according to Albin-Lackey, is that under the law, the judge isn't allowed to hear counterclaims. The judge is only allowed to ask if they have paid their rent or if they've moved. Albin-Lackey saw tenants arrive in court with documents supporting their side of the story, not realizing that the judge wouldn't be able to hear it. In one instance, an elderly tenant pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation, despite having never received her 10-day notice because she was hospitalized following a stroke.
Often the statute seems to function as an intimidation tactic. According to prosecutors and aid workers, most of these cases never make it to court. "What we find is, people are so confused and so scared, they end up moving out, whether or not they actually owe money," said O'Leary.
The commission and HRW criticize the statute for criminalizing poverty. "I think there's a general misconception on the part of landlords, on the part of judges, on the part of legislators, that this law only affects deadbeats. ... The main thing that we're trying to do with this [HRW] report is highlight the number of people who don't fit that profile," said Albin-Lackey. The commission's report reads: "There is really no difference between this statute and a statute that would criminalize persons who default on their mortgages and remain on the premises."
Albin-Lackey interviewed one Little Rock couple who were arrested on their way to Bible study. When Steve (who wants to be known only by his first name) and his wife found the police at their door, the wife, a recent heart transplant recipient, fainted on the spot. Steve, 60, had lived in the same apartment complex for nearly nine years, but that month, August 2012, they were two weeks behind on rent. They met with the property manager and offered to pay half of the rent then and half before the month ended, but were refused. After receiving their 10-day notice, they immediately began looking for a new home. Steve also asked his brother for help. But when the money arrived, the property manager refused to accept even the full rent.
What's the saying? If it sounds to good to be true - it usually is.
The police are beholden to & trained by fbi.
See my reports concerning…
Mark Pryor's standing well with both the NRA and the IRS. After all, he got…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings