The federally ordered eviction moratorium begins today, but it comes with many complications.
Landlords will challenge it. Rules are stringent about qualifying. The moratorium doesn’t remove payment obligations. Rental assistance, particularly in Arkansas, is limited . The order merely postpones an eviction crisis until the beginning of 2021.
Some comprehensive reports on the situation:
From Legal Aid of Arkansas
And also the monthly eviction report from Lynn Foster, the UA Little Rock law professor who’s long labored in the effort to get a fair shake for tenants in Arkansas, the most pro-landlord state in the country.
Legal Aid estimates 139,000 households in Arkansas, as of the end of July, were at risk of eviction. The federal order should mean a halt to criminal evictions in Arkansas, the only state that still permits them.
Foster said evictions were up in Arkansas 40 percent in August compared with July.
Arkansas has only minimal rental assistance, she notes, and is not among the 36 states that have issued eviction moratoriums. Assistance, by the way, would help both tenants and landlords.
Foster offers some ideas Arkansas should consider now or in the legislative session set in January. To date, the governor has offered little but sympathy for the plight of renters.
1. Arkansas should guarantee meaningful rent assistance to tenants who through no fault of their own have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic, rendering them unable to pay their rent. If the federal government will not provide sufficient assistance, as seems to be the case at the time of this writing, then Arkansas should do so. The new eviction moratorium will not relieve the obligation to pay rent.
2. Arkansas should establish an easy-to-use website so tenants can find sources of rent assistance.
3. The Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts should track all evictions. Government can’t make informed policy decisions without correct numbers. Currently, significant numbers of evictions are not tracked in the state’s online court case database.
4. Tenants being evicted need legal assistance, either in the form of legal advice or representation, or alternate dispute resolution.
5. The legislature should repeal the Catch-22 deposit provision from the unlawful detainer statute. Meanwhile, judges should waive the deposit requirement and hold a hearing in any case before issuing a writ of possession.
6. The legislature should repeal the criminal failure to vacate statute.
7. The legislature should enact a statute clearly codifying that self-help is illegal, clarifying what acts constitute illegal self-help, and giving tenants a remedy for illegal self-help. For example, a landlord in July changed the locks on his tenants without a court order, then called the police to arrest them for trespass when they changed the locks back. This landlord should be subject to sanctions, just as is a tenant who doesn’t pay the rent.
Foster’s extensive report includes several stories of tenants in distress. For example:
Craighead County “I was laid off work in April 3 2020 due to Covid-19. Did not start receiving unemployment for 7 weeks after. I have still not received my income tax in the amount of [ ] or my stimulus due to identity theft and I had to mail in my return. Attached are receipts and bank copies of the ones I could find they are stating I have not paid or tried paying. They are saying I owe way more than I do. I’m on unemployment and have told them, I have full intentions of paying what I owe. I just had my unemployment reduced to $173 a week and I have been trying to find employment that will allow me to get caught up. I don’t know what to do. My car was broken into in May and my bank card purse and checks were stolen along with some cash. Attached is a copy of the police report. If there is any help I can get or a way to get a loan on my taxes I’m willing to do whatever. Please allow me to get the exact amount I owe and any help or guidance in what I need to do.”