A CLOSER LOOK: Arkansas evictions during COVID-19; tenant stories

A Closer Look

To pay $2,000 all at once and relocate at the same time would be a severe hardship at my age of 72.

Eviction MT

From left, Mike Banderob, 38, Rose Banderob, 11, and Scott Banderob, 58, host a garage sale in order to raise money to pay for rent and other expenses on Friday, July 31, 2020, in Bozeman, Mont. Their landlord is planning to evict them in September, refusing to accept money from the CARES Act Housing Assistance Program or other local non-profits attempting to intercede on the Bandrob’s behalf.
(Rachel Leathe/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Handling future evictions during COVID-19 is yet to be determined since moratoriums have lapsed.

Congress has until August 24 to decide how to proceed with the eviction ban created by the CARES Act.

In Arkansas, more than 30% of households rent, according to census data from 2010.

The former University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster has been tracking evictions of residential tenants for non-payment of rent since the beginning of the pandemic.

Foster found that more women tenants are evicted compared to men tenants or couples.

  • April: 60 evictions of all types (50%) were women.
  • May: 68 of 154 evictions of all types (43%) were women.
  • June: 118 of 228 civil evictions (52%) were women.

ARKANSAS HAS 3 TYPES OF EVICTION PROCEEDINGS:

  • Unlawful detainers, which are tracked through Court Connect.
  • Civil evictions, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 18-17-901, most of which are not tracked on Court Connect, because most district courts are not on Court Connect.
  • Failure to vacate criminal offenses heard by district courts, most of which are not tracked on Court Connect, because most district courts are not on Court Connect.

The CARES Act placed a four-month moratorium on the filing of certain evictions. That ended July 25:

  • Covers evictions filed on March 27 and going forward.
  • Applies to residential evictions for nonpayment of rent.
  • Applies to housing that is part of federal programs or federally subsidized.
  • Properties with three or fewer units, such as duplexes and single-family homes, under federally backed mortgage loans are not tracked.

Here are tenant eviction explanations made to circuit courts in Arkansas:

Benton County Circuit Court:

These tenants were stroke victims, and one was also in remission from cancer. Both were at high risk of COVID. Their caregivers filed the answer, seeking a court date so they could present evidence to the judge. They were looking for a new place to rent but did not want to risk the tenants catching the pandemic while in the process of moving.

UALR William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster.

Benton County Circuit Court:

The tenant objected, alleging he paid all rent including late fees. His work hours had been cut back because of COVID, and he was ill and could not leave the house because of illness. The property manager said they would notify the owner. T was all paid up by June 10. The landlord accepted the payment. No one warned him about an eviction.

Washington County Circuit Court:

“I am a single mom of 4 children. I have not been working since March 1st, 2020 because of the corona pandemic. I am currently waiting on unemployment to come, they said it should be in the mail next week. I am employed at the U of A and have recently returned to work less than 20 hours a week part-time.

I plan on moving soon as I have the funds to do so. I have been without a vehicle since March and with kids out of school and keeping food in the fridge as well as gas, electricity, water, and internet for kids’ school it has taken all funds. Paying to move at this time. First, last, and deposit and pay past due rent at this time. There is no way. I understand my landlord needs me to vacate as soon as possible so they can get development started. I am doing the best I can with the means I have to do so.”

This tenant’s hardship is a result of a loss of hours, which in turn made it difficult to pay bills. UALR William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster.

Crawford County District Court:

“The pandemic has caused my business to close down which has caused money to come in slower but I will pay the rent. Now, at this time to pay $2,000 all at once and to pay that and relocate at the same time would be a severe hardship at my age of 72 and with all that is going on. We’re all in a bad situation these days. Landlords shouldn’t be allowed to make things worse. To throw people out at a moment’s notice instead of taking smaller payments and to help people and the economy maintain until things get better. I will pay the rent in full and I will gladly move, but I have to find a place to move to. Circumstances are unusual.”

This tenant retained a Legal Services attorney and reached an agreement with the landlord. UALR William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster.

Craighead County Circuit Court:

“I have asked them on multiple occasions to give me time to get a job since the reopening of the economy. I maintained my rent payments up until all my funds ran out in May. I applied for disability, which was denied only due to my age and education. My physical health has weakened my abilities to be a certified nurse’s assistant, which has been my career for the past 18 years is gone. When I moved to Jonesboro in February, I didn’t know that COVID would hit and change everyone’s world upside down. I also thought that with the country in a pandemic that my apartment complex, my home, will still charge $10.00 per day in late fees, how am I ever supposed to catch up? I only missed $195 in May and $625 in June, but on the ledger, it has over $1,300 which is almost half in late fees only. I have since found a job that doesn’t conflict with my health. I had to have time for background checks to come back, orientation and I have to work almost three weeks before I get a paycheck. I want to catch my rent up. All I’m asking for is time to get at least two paychecks. If they would allow me to make payments on the late fees separate from my rent, but to allow me to catch my rent up. I have nowhere else to go.”

This highlights late fees, which often make it impossible for a tenant to catch up with back rent. In some cases, late fees serve no purpose other than to penalize the tenant and make extra money for the landlord. UALR William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster.

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the restaurant industry shut down and it shut down my business. I have a new job and have made over $1600 in payments to the landlord.”

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“I’m willing to pay. I was going through hardship due to COVID-19. My hours here have been reduced. Also, I am willing to pay or move. I’ll need more than 5 days to leave the property. My kids and myself don’t have family here. I’ll need 15 days to 30 days to find a place to live.”

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“I am not in default of my rent. My lease is for $375/mo, which the landlord agreed to accept on a weekly basis. My debt of $1800 – is for late charges from previous years for which I offered to pay$40/week, in addition to my weekly payments. I believe the reason for the eviction is my refusal to pay an additional $70/wk for 26 wks due to inability financially. My rent is current and due to COVID 19, income has decreased. I am self-employed so I do not qualify for unemployment or stimulus payment.”

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“On May 26 2020 was my first day of work due to the COVID. I explained to the manager that I wasn’t able to pay the late fees until Friday, June 12 which was my first paycheck. I paid on that date which was $180 for June I paid 660 my rent only 600. I have receipts.”

Washington County Circuit Court:

In an answer filed by counsel, the tenant stated she has serious medical issues and wasn’t getting disability payments on time, but had now received payment and could in turn pay her late rent. The lease was due to expire on August 1, and she planned to be out on that date anyway. She alleged that within hours of an ambulance taking her to the hospital because of serious medical issues, the landlord posted a 3-day notice to vacate on her door. She alleged that her landlord trespassed and breached the lease. After this answer was filed, the parties reached an agreement and the landlord’s motion to dismiss was granted.

APRIL THROUGH JUNE EVICTIONS FILED BY COUNTY

The following table shows the Court Connect database number of evictions and failure to vacate
charges filed against residential tenants for nonpayment of rent by county in April, May, and June.
*These counties do not have electronic filing so pleadings are not available on Court Connect. However,
since most evictions are filed for nonpayment of rent, they are listed here.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has not plateaued but instead has increased. In April there were 3,255 cumulative cases and on July 31, there were 42,511 cumulative cases, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s COVID-19 briefings on those dates.

While more remains to be done there is a positive step Arkansas has taken, “preventing utility shut-offs,” said Foster.

A CLOSER LOOK: Deadline looms for rental eviction notices

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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