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HRW recommends repealing failure-to-vacate in its entirety during the 2013 legislative session, and until repeal, requiring courts to report these cases and their verdicts and sentences to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
In addition to a lack of protection from retaliatory eviction, tenants are not protected from undue landlord access to the space (entering with no notice). The commission would address that by limiting landlord access to the premises. Other recommendations made by the commission: adding stronger protections against discrimination and for domestic violence victims, and adding the missing portions of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA). URLTA is a sample law, essentially a recommendation to all states, adopted in 1972 by uniform law commissioners from each state. Twenty-one states have enacted the URLTA, but Arkansas is not among them. That's because, in 2007, the Arkansas legislature enacted only half of the act — the half that provides landlord protections. Arkansas didn't enact any of the tenant protections, which is why landlords don't have to keep up common spaces, provide waste receptacles or maintain basic sanitary conditions, and can continue to enforce a tenant's lease even if the premise becomes uninhabitable due to natural disaster. Under URLTA, asking tenants to give up legal rights is punishable by requiring the landlord to cover the cost of the tenant's attorney fees and three months' waived rent.
Landlords often do credit, background and reference checks on tenants, sometimes at the tenant's expense. But beyond word of mouth, tenants have little guidance on which landlords to avoid. The attorney general's office doesn't keep a comprehensive record of tenant complaints, and the Arkansas Real Estate Commission only investigates complaints against realtors who manage other people's properties. There is no oversight for landlords who manage their own property, since the Arkansas Landlords Association doesn't have any system of processing or verifying complaints.
Withholding rent for any reason is immediate grounds for eviction. You can sue if evicted and to get out of the lease, Foster said, "But how many renters have the resources to sue? ... You'll hear from landlords that there were pro-tenant people on the commission, but I'm not pro-tenant. I'm pro-fairness. We are so far out of line from other states. Are Arkansas tenants so different? What makes Arkansas tenants so bad that we have to take away their rights?"
There's a chance the legislature could act on the reforms during this legislative session. The study commission has asked that a bill be drafted and "a number of legislators have expressed interest," Foster said. She thinks the recommendations will have a better chance of passing if they are divided into separate pieces of legislation.
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