ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — For more than seven months, COVID-19 has impacted many people from health, jobs, paying bills, and especially paying rent.
There is a national moratorium on evictions in place until December 31, 2020, issued by the Centers for Disease Control, but in Arkansas, more evictions were filed in September 2020 than in September 2019.
In August, 400 evictions were filed across the state, and in September, there were 547. Pulaski County had the most eviction filings with 223 (101 in August), followed by Washington County with 67 (39 in August).
“A greater percentage of tenants filed answers, and some filed the CDC declaration form, but not all those who could did. At least one judge has proceeded with an eviction process, despite a CDC form being filed timely,” said retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law professor (who specializes in housing issues) Lynn Foster.
To qualify for the moratorium tenants must submit a declaration statement to their landlord about not being able to pay rent. The following needs to be in the statement:
- your efforts to obtain government assistance
- your income
- your inability to pay rent due to loss of income or work or significant medical expenses
- your efforts to try to make full or partial rent payments
- the likelihood that eviction would cause them to live in a homeless shelter or another residence that would place them in close quarters with others
DOWNLOAD OUT THE DECLARATION HERE
The CDC eviction moratorium has been in place for one month, but the Arkansas Supreme Court has not yet issued an order requiring pleadings to reflect the CDC moratorium, as it did for the CARES Act moratorium, according to Foster. She made the following recommendations:
- The Arkansas Supreme Court should require landlords to plead that they have not received a CDC declaration from their tenant.
- Tenants should receive a blank CDC declaration form accompanying any notice to vacate or eviction complaint.
- The filing of a CDC declaration should be a bar to any pending eviction.
ARKANSAS LEGAL SERVICES WEBSITE
EVICTION AND RISK OF COVID-19 TRANSMISSION
“Evicted renters must move, which leads to multiple outcomes that increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. Specifically, many evicted renters move into close quarters in shared housing or other congregate settings. According to the Census Bureau American Housing Survey, 32% of renters reported that they would move in with friends or family members upon eviction, which would introduce new household members and potentially increase household crowding.Citation 11: United States Census Bureau. American Housing Survey, 2017. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs.html.
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SEPTEMBER TENANT STORIES
Pulaski County Circuit Court:
“Lost job from Covid-19 and had a newborn baby. Paid what I could.” This tenant filed his answer within 5 days of being served, with a CDC declaration attached. The judge ordered a writ of possession several days before this writing, without stopping the eviction or giving the tenant a hearing. The judge stated this was because the tenant paid no deposit to the court. See below for a description of our unfair unlawful detainer statute. In addition, however, federal law requires that no writ of possession should have been issued here.Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster
MILLER COUNTY SUMMONS & WRIT OF POSSESSION
“The tenant was sent a summons form telling the tenant she had 30 days to respond, accompanied by the notice of intention to issue a writ of possession telling the tenant she had 5 days to respond. These contradictory instructions, clearly a mistake, may cause this tenant to be evicted if she follows the instructions on the incorrect form. Being unaware of the law, tenants often focus on irrelevant facts and omit facts that could help their case. Undoubtedly, lack of counsel discourages some tenants from even filing an objection in the first place.”Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster
Pulaski County Circuit Court:
“I have made several attempts to make payments to [office manager] and she refused to accept my money orders two months straight because they were partial payments. Notices for past due payments were placed on my door hanger however my payments were being refused. In July I purchased a $700 money order and took it to the office. [Office Manager] refused it stating she could not accept partial payments and the rent was $750 per month. August I purchased a $750 money order and again I went to the office and she again refused, advising [Property Manager] advised her to refuse any and all payments from me.” This tenant explained she had been off work for two months due to COVID. Two agencies agreed to provide her with rent assistance that would allow her to catch up. “I had to reschedule with both agencies twice because [Managers] refused to speak with representatives from both agencies. Communications were redirected to the attorney.” The attorney in turn told her to speak to the manager. Neither would accept her rent payments. “September 20, 2020, I was served with a notice indicated I refused to make payments which is completely and totally false. I am a single mother of two minor children and the pandemic has greatly impacted my ability to seek or secure alternate housing options at this time and would render us completely homeless.”Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster
This is exactly the type of tenant the CDC moratorium is intended to protect, and yet an eviction has been filed against her. This tenant attached a CDC declaration to her answer, said Foster.
Pulaski County Circuit Court:
“I lost my job in March. I became behind for the months of April through September. I purchased money orders to cover July through September. I wrote to them letting them know that I’m not working due to the pandemic however I would send them monies towards my rent as I receive money. I still was issued the eviction as I have nowhere to go. I turned in an eviction declaration to management but I was told that she wouldn’t accept. I plan to move but need 30 days to be able and find a place to live. I have been receiving harassment violations from management and bias toward me.”Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster
Pulaski County Circuit Court:
“We started leasing the property on August 1, 2019, on a 12-month contract. On July 1, 2020, as I met [L] to pay our July rent he presented me with a new 12-month lease. He explained to me how he loves having us as tenants and he would hate to see us go. . . . On July 6, I returned the signed lease. On July 31, I texted to let him know I was trying to get CADC to pay $500 on our rent due to me losing my job on July 16. That same day his wife called me stating they needed us to pay $750. I explained we could pay $250 and CADC would send her $500. She asked why I couldn’t pay the $750 check and wait for her to refund $500 after she got the CADC check. I explained to her I was not doing that and she started talking about evicting us.”Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster
The landlord said they would talk the next day, but the tenant didn’t hear from her until August when the landlord taped an eviction notice to the door while the tenant was out. The tenant texted asking whether the landlord would accept rent money, and the landlord came over, explained that late fees cost $25/day and offering a month-to-month lease. “We refused to sign it due to us signing a 12-month lease 7/6/2020. On 8/13/2020 [L] reached out to me for the new lease, we refused to sign. Once I explained to her we were not signing another lease, she started this process.” The tenant asked for the lease she had signed and returned, but the landlord responded it was void.
By Sept. 10, the tenants had given the landlord $1600. “After staying on the property one whole year always paid rent on time and we are late on rent one month and they are now trying to sue us. Where is the good faith that we have always paid and never been late? [Manager] explained to [one of the Tenants] we did not have to worry about the late fees. He just had to write it in the paperwork.” However, the landlord claimed late fees in the complaint.
The last two tenants did not file the CDC declarations with the court. “I found 26 answers with facts indicating that the tenants should have signed a CDC declaration and delivered it to their landlords, but no indication that they actually did. This may be a sign that many tenants are not aware of the CDC moratorium and requirement of a declaration,” said Foster.
UNLAWFUL DETAINER STATUTE
Ark. Code Ann. § 18-60-307 requires the eviction notice served on the tenant to have certain wording. It is written in legalese, not plain English. Tenants are routinely confused by this language, and many believe that it is telling them they have already been evicted and must move out now.
If tenants want a hearing (and not immediate dispossession), they must respond to the clerk of the court in writing within five days. But in addition to making a response, they must also pay the rent the landlord says they owe to the court.
Foster calls this a Catch-22 provision because it has the effect of making it almost impossible to get a hearing. “A tenant who has filed a CDC declaration should not have to pay the court—that’s the point of the declaration,” said Foster, “and yet a Pulaski County judge ordered a writ of possession issued against such a tenant.”
Often the tenant alleges that she has paid her rent. Also frequently, the tenant alleged that the landlord told her not to worry about paying rent late, and then the tenant receives an eviction notice, according to Foster.