SPECIAL REPORT: Arkansas’ renters’ rights

FOX24

"We're the only state without a warranty of habitability"

ARKANSAS (KFTA) — Arkansas is the only state in the country with no law to establish minimum health and safety standards in rental properties.

“If I had a shed in my backyard and you were desperate enough to pay $100/ month to live there, that’s fine,” said Sen. Greg Leding (D), who represents Arkansas’ fourth congressional district.

If you look at the Arkansas Attorney General‘s website, you’ll see that if you rent a house or apartment, you usually agree to take it “as is.” This means the landlord is not legally required to provide any further maintenance to the rental.

Under the section titled “Tenant rights and obligations,” also on the AG’s website, you’ll find rules pertaining to a lease agreement but nothing specific to the safety of the property.

For the last several legislative sessions Leding has worked alongside both Democrats and Republicans to get the 1/3 or Arkansans who are tenants what he referred to as a minimum set of standards.

“Smoke detectors, certain amount of hot water, heat, that kind of thing and Arkansas just doesn’t have one,” Leding said.

In 2011, the Arkansas General Assembly created a non-legislative commission to study landlord-tenant laws. Upon its completion in 2012 it made 15 recommendations, one was to create an implied warranty of habitability.

The Commission unanimously recommended a statute be created to mandate an implied warranty of habitability.

This would require landlords to:

  • Do whatever is necessary to keep premises in a reasonably safe and habitable condition
  • Maintain the structural components including, but not limited to, the roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations
  • Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water
  • Supply smoke detection devices

“Unfortunately in the time since then, the legislature has not been able to pass legislation to fix the issues that we have,” Leding said.

Not for a lack of trying though. Several bills have been sponsored in the last several years, championing more rights for renters.

In 2013 SB951 was killed, as was HB1486 in 2015, HB1166 in 2017 and HB1410 in 2019.

Leding attributes the failure of these bills to effective lobbying by the Arkansas REALTORS® Association (ARA).

“Every session since 2013 they have fought vigorously every attempt to improve or pass meaningful reforms,” Leding said.

The ARA declined to respond to this claim on camera or answer several questions asked of the association, but did provide the following statement:

The Arkansas REALTORS® Association has worked tirelessly for several sessions to find legislation that helps good tenants and does not hurt good landlords. We will continue to work to support policy that benefits all Arkansans.

Arkansas REALTORS® Association

Leding acknowledges the ARA did work with him on HB1486 in 2015 but said it was a constant battle back-and-forth over how the bill was worded, no matter how vague or specific.

“We would have language that said something like a ‘reasonable amount of hot water’ and they’d come back and say well, one person’s idea of reasonable is different from another persons [idea] of reasonable,” Leding said.

Sen. Robin Lundstrum (R), who represents Arkansas’ 87th district, said no bills in the past have moved forward because of how they were written.

“They threw everything at it plus the kitchen sink which made it so unworkable that it wouldn’t work for the tenants, it wouldn’t work for the landlords,” Lundstrum said.

Lundstrum is a landlord with over a dozen properties in Northwest Arkansas. She has opposed changes to renter’s laws in the past.

If you have a law for everything that’s stupid, you’d be here all day.

Robin Lundstrum

Lundstrum was adamant that more control at the state level would mean more money out of your pocket.

“You’d have to have a government agency come in and do that. You’d have to charge somebody to physically walk into a building and check it every time so that’s going to cost money,” Lundstrum said.

She believes a market economy will push out the bad landlords, not the creation of new laws.

“We have 40,000 units in Northwest Arkansas, 40,000 rental properties and we have at least another 2,000 to 3,000 coming on that are nice quality. Now if you’re a bad landlord, you need to be sweating right now because your tenants are out looking,” Lundstrum said.

Regardless, Leding said your state lawmakers need to get involved.

“We can’t place all the blame on the Arkansas REALTORS® Association because they don’t get a vote. Lawmakers are ultimately responsible for voting,” Leding said.

Many of these lawmakers are landlords too, like Lundstrum.

Proof of this can be found in archive footage found on the Arkansas Senate’s website, of senators voting on HB1538 in April 2019.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Clowney (D) who represents Arkansas’ 86th District, aimed to help domestic violence victims who have a documented incident leave their lease early without being subject to a fee.

Of the 34 senators who voted, 15 went on the record and disclosed they are landlords.

Ultimately the bill failed in the senate, though it passed overwhelmingly in the house.

While lawmakers don’t see eye-to-eye on policy, both sides agree there are good landlords and nightmare tenants.

“Landlords do a lot of things to help people that you never see,” Lundstrum continued, “everybody’s got a bad landlord story just like everybody has a bad teacher, doctor, or nurse story and always the bad stories get told first because that’s more interesting. Everybody loves to talk about that.”

Leding said, “we’re talking about a very small amount of negligent landlords. Most landlords do right by their tenants.”

It’s those few who do take advantage, who Leding said need to be held accountable.

Until then, municipalities and counties across Arkansas are responsible for creating and enforcing ordinances to protect landlords and Renters.

In Springdale, the city’s code of ordinances details that residences must be habitable, but there aren’t specifics that define what that means in terms of the structure itself.

Fayetteville Plans Examiner Quin Thompson said landlords must follow the city’s building safety codes and there are minimum requirements in place for landlords like water service and heating.

Thomspon said the codes don’t speak to problems with mold or leaks and mentioned how in the past when a tenant comes to him with a problem, he has suggested they speak with their lawmakers.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

FOX24 Video

TOP STORIES

More News

DON'T MISS

More Don't Miss

Trending Stories

Follow KNWA & FOX24 on Facebook

get the app

News App

Weather App

Follow @KNWAFOX24 on Twitter