ACLU presses fight on eviction law | Arkansas Blog

Monday, August 7, 2017

ACLU presses fight on eviction law

Posted By on Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 8:02 AM

The Arkansas chapter of the ACLU says it is continuing its fight against Arkansas's one-of-a-kind criminal eviction law.

Arkansas makes it a crime to fail to pay rent, as opposed to a civil matter. The legislature revised the law because of adverse court rulings, but the ACLU is pressing on. Said an ACLU release:

“Giving landlords free rein to enlist local law enforcement to force people out of their homes without any protections or due process is the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a police state, not the United States of America,” said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas executive director.

In a recent federal court filing, the ACLU continues to urge the court to invalidate the law and prevent prosecution of a Baxter County resident, Mitchell Purdom.

Sklar said the new law is "lipstick on a pig." She said it still gives vast powers to landlords and allows tenants to be bullied and exploited. The ACLU favors a civil eviction process (which some landlords use already).

Said the ACLU:

Under a 2001 law, landlords could use law enforcement as a kind of private security force. Tenants could be charged with failure to pay rent – and threatened by law enforcement with jail time and fines – based on the landlord’s word alone, with no hearing or evidence required. Tenants then face criminal penalties if they cannot pay a fee in the amount of the allegedly unpaid rent, regardless of the reason, including illness, disrepair of the premises, or a mere dispute over the amount owed.

“The new law has the same fundamental problems as the old law - it criminalizes people for being poor,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas legal director. “The State of Arkansas should be working to protect its most vulnerable citizens, not helping private landlords threaten and punish them.”

The 2017 law change still provides no due process for tenants, the ACLU says, and still violates the constitutional ban on imprisonment for debts.

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