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Articles and Investigations – ProPublica: Arkansas: My Landlord Is Trying to Kick Me Out. What Can I Do?


Are you facing eviction in Arkansas? Before you do anything, there are lawyers available who might be able to provide you with advice. Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services are two groups that offer free services to people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. You can also find a lawyer through the state’s bar association or the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.

Do you live in income-based housing, like a public housing authority? Do you have a Section 8 voucher? There may be other laws that apply to you than the ones described below. You can call one of the legal services above to ask about the specifics.

What is an eviction?

Evictions are the legal process that landlords can use to get people to leave properties. Landlords usually decide to turn to evictions if you break the terms of the rental agreement by not paying the full rent on the due date.

The eviction process might also give you the chance to bring up times your landlord did not hold up their end of the rental agreement in court. We’ll get to that later.

If I pay my rent, can I still be evicted?

Yes. In Arkansas, as in other states, landlords can also ask you to leave if you:

  • Break the rental terms in another way and did not fix the issue within 14 days.

  • Stay in the property after the agreement or lease is over.

  • Engage in illegal activity, including criminal offenses or nuisances, illegal gambling, illegal sale of alcohol and prostititution.

Since most evictions happen because of nonpayment of rent, we’ll focus on what you can do if you’re in that situation.

I’ve been given a notice to leave my house. What can I do next?

You can reach out to the landlord and try to work out an agreement, like paying the rent you owe or setting up a payment plan.

If you are unable to pay rent, you still have some options. Arkansas has rental assistance programs that you can apply for. You can find more information about rental assistance programs and how to qualify by typing “Rental Assistance” and the name of your town into a search engine like Google. There may be a few organizations in your area that offer rental assistance. So, it could take a few phone calls before figuring out if you can get the state’s help on rent. You can also check out your local Community Action Partnership and Office of Community Services to see if they have rental assistance.

If you are looking to move, the federal government has programs to provide people with more affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs these programs, which are described on this website.

If you do not reach an agreement with your landlord and do not leave within the period of time your landlord gave you, in some cases the landlord may then take you to court.

This is an example of a form your landlord may give you. It means they are giving you 10 days to leave. If you do not, then the landlord may move forward with a criminal charge against you.

Can I be evicted during the pandemic?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a countrywide pause on evictions in early September. People who qualify can use this order to delay an eviction until Jan. 1, 2021.

You qualify for this ban if you already tried to get all available government help for rent or housing and are:

  • Making less than $99,000 in 2020.

  • Unable to pay full rent because you have lost income this year.

  • Making efforts to make partial payments on time.

  • Likely to be homeless if evicted.

The government has this form for renters to use if they qualify. The CDC published answers to frequently asked questions about the form and process here.

Your landlord may still go to court even if you have given them this slip of paper. The judge can still rule in favor of your landlord, but the eviction may not take place until Jan. 1.

Important to note: Even if you qualify, you are still responsible for paying your landlord rent.

My landlord wants to take me to court. What can happen?

In Arkansas, landlords may be able to file civil or criminal charges against you after you fall behind on rent. It is the only state in the country that allows landlords to use a criminal charge for evictions. Read our investigation on why that is here.

Here’s the difference between civil and criminal: Civil matters cover issues between two private parties, while criminal matters are about larger public safety and well-being. The justice system has harsher punishments available for criminal cases than for civil ones.

Civil evictions: There are two types of civil evictions in Arkansas, and each has a different process. If you do not pay the full rent when it is due, your landlord can start the process.

The most common civil eviction is the “unlawful detainer” charge. Your landlord will give you a three-day notice to leave. If you stay, the landlord may be able to pay the circuit courts to file a suit against you. You will get a notice that your landlord has filed the charge in court through the mail or from the landlord. These are called summons and include instructions on your next steps. Court clerks suggest reading these very carefully.

If you do not think you should be evicted, you can submit a written response to the courthouse. You have to give the court the response within five days of getting the notice. Arkansas Legal Services and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services have lawyers available who might be able to help you write the response. You might also have to make a payment to the court when you file your response. The payment will be the amount of rent the landlord says you owe. In some cases, if you do not pay, the court will not have a hearing and instead rule in favor of your landlord. The clerk who works for your circuit court may be able to tell you whether you have to pay the court when you file your response. You can find your circuit court clerk’s contact information here.

Once you give the court clerk your response and the possible payment, the court may set up a hearing where you and your landlord will have the chance to argue your case.

The other civil eviction is known as the “2007 Act,” small claims or district court evictions. The landlord may go straight to court if you do not pay the full rent you owe within five days of the due date. The first notice you get might not be from your landlord, but from a court.

Criminal evictions: There is one criminal eviction statute in the state. If you fall behind on rent, your landlord may give you a notice to leave the property within 10 days. If you stay, the landlord can file the criminal “failure to pay rent, failure to vacate” charge against you. Why? In two cases from the 1960s and 1980s, judges compared staying in a property after not paying rent to stealing from the landlord. Stealing is a crime.

Since this is a criminal matter and your landlord is filing the case, the state will bring the case on behalf of the victim — in this case the landlord. The landlord is spared the cost of hiring a lawyer. Once the landlord files the case, a law enforcement officer will hand-deliver a citation with details about the case, like the date and time of the court date.

ProPublica learned that some landlords threaten tenants with jail if they do not move out. You can read our investigation about that here. Some counties have stopped allowing criminal citations. Your local prosecuting attorney’s office or district court may be able to tell you if they still process criminal evictions. If they do not, landlords will only be able to use civil charges against you. These kinds of cases do not include the possibility of arrest for not paying rent on time and staying in the home.

If I have a court date but can’t afford a lawyer, can I get help?

Yes. Legal Aid of Arkansas and Center for Arkansas Legal Services offer free services for people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

If you are charged with the criminal statute, you might be able to get a lawyer with the state’s help. You can call the Arkansas Public Defender Commission to see if you qualify.

Legal Aid of North Carolina also helped create a podcast called “The Tenant’s Toolkit.” You can listen to it here. Every state has different housing laws, but the series includes general information on rental agreements, the rights renters have in court and how to work on balancing a budget to get closer to paying rent on time.

What happens in housing court?

A court hearing gives you and your landlord the chance to present your cases to a judge. Then, the judge will decide whether to rule in favor of the landlord or you.

Every state has its own set of housing laws meant to protect both renters and landlords. For example, in Arkansas, it is illegal for a landlord to change the locks on a renter without having a court order to do so. Landlords also can’t charge more than two months’ rent for the security deposit. Here is a tool where you can look up the housing laws in your state.

In court, each party can present evidence of times the other may have broken these laws or the rental agreement.

Important to note: Some judges do not allow people to use their phones to show the evidence, so renters and landlords need to print out any evidence they want to present ahead of the court date.

What happens if I don’t go to court?

Not going to court might have big consequences. Researchers have found that across the country, it’s very common for people to not show up to court for their eviction hearings. But that means your landlord might automatically win.

For a civil eviction, when you do not show up to court, judges almost always rule in favor of the landlord. This means you have 24 hours to leave the home. The judge may give you more time. But if you don’t leave the home within the timeframe, then the sheriff may come move you out and change the locks.

For a criminal charge, not coming to court can result in serious consequences. If you do not appear, the judge can issue what’s called a “Failure to Appear” warrant against you. This “Failure to Appear” becomes a separate criminal charge and can end in jail time and a criminal record. ProPublica found that since 2018, at least 37 people have been sentenced to jail in Arkansas after failing to appear in court for a rental hearing.

I’ve been evicted. What can I do next?

Evictions can hurt your credit scores. You can start repairing these scores by working with groups that teach people about managing money. The University of Arkansas has a resource page that explains how to check your credit score and how to repair or increase it. Your landlord can also sue you for the rent you did not pay. If that is the case, you can set up a payment plan through the court.

Do you have access to information about evictions that should be public? Email maya.miller@propublica.org and ellis.simani@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on evictions and debt collection.

Articles and Investigations – ProPublica