A CLOSER LOOK: evictions up 40% from July; COVID-19 related

A Closer Look

A paper envelope written with the words “Rent Money $ ” is left tucked in a lighting pole in the Boyle Heights east district of the city of Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Nearly 3.3 million people in the U.S. filed unemployment claims for the week of March 16, as the shutdown from the virus started. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Evictions in Arkansas increased by 40% from July, according to court data. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a temporary eviction moratorium from September 4, 2020, through December 31, 2020.

The CDC order does not relieve the tenant of paying rent.

The tables below are from the Court Connect database number of evictions and failure to vacate charges filed against residential tenants for nonpayment of rent, by county, from April through August.

*These counties do not have electronic filing so pleadings are not available on Court Connect. However,
since the vast majority of evictions are filed for nonpayment of rent, they are listed here. Beginning in
July, Crittenden County’s filings came online.

“The CDC eviction moratorium has kicked the can down the road,” wrote the retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Professor Lynn Foster. She explained the “can” as being the issue of tenants unable to pay rent through no fault of their own because of COVID-19.

Foster said a moratorium is the next best thing, but tenants need rent assistance. “Arkansas’ rental assistance is insufficient.”

The CDC’s order is broadly worded. There are five conditions that must be met by a resident once they’ve completed, signed a delivered a declaration form to their landlord (this form MUST also be signed by all adults listed on the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract):

  • The individual has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.
  • Expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 or $198,000 if filing a joint tax return.
  • The individual is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income.
  • The individual is using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit.
  • Eviction would likely render the individual homeless—or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because no other house option is available.

CLICK HERE FOR ARKANSAS LEGAL SERVICES WEBSITE FOR THE FORM (AND ITS HOTLINE) THAT IS MENTIONED ABOVE

National Low Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel posted on Twitter that corporate landlords are trying to “rush evictions” through the court system.”

So far, landlords have lost each lawsuit that has been decided regarding state eviction moratoriums, according to Yentel.

Nineteen states have eviction moratoriums and at least 36 states have emergency funds to assist renters. “Arkansas has only minimally done the latter,” according to Foster.

7 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ARKANSAS TO BETTER HANDLE COVID-CAUSED EVICTIONS, PER FOSTER:

  • Should guarantee meaningful rent assistance who (through no fault of their own) have lost jobs or income due to COVID, rendering them unable to pay their rent.
  • Establish an easy-to-use website so tenants can find rent assistance resources.
  • Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts should track all eviction.
  • Tenants being evicted need legal assistance, either through legal advice or representation, or alternate dispute resolution.
  • The legislature should repeal the Catch-22 deposit provision from the unlawful detainer statute.
  • The legislature should repeal the criminal failure to vacate statute.
  • 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.

AUGUST TENANT STORIES

Craighead County Circuit Court:

“I was laid off work on 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.”

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“Due to the pandemic, all my overtime hours got cut off. Also, part of my regular hours got cut as well. My hours at work have been cut extremely. The company has also taken away holiday pay double time. That was the extra cushion that was helping my family to keep our heads above water. Since that has been taken away it has been hard for me to meet every bill that I have. Some months I have to pick and choose what to pay not only to keep a roof but pay car note, insurance, water, lights, phone, and provide food for my family. Being late on rent was never our intention. The intention that we had was in good faith to pay rent on time each month. However to the circumstances of what going on today and had been for some time that burden has become very heavy to carry at times. We appreciate [the Landlord] for the understanding that we have extended payments of installments where we needed to. We apologize for falling behind as it was never our intent to do so. I am and have been doing the very best I can to provide for my family.”

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“I have made over $1700 in payments and have continued to try and set up payment arrangements to catch up. The pandemic closed my business this is the reason like most of the country I fell behind. I gave my entire stimulus check plus more of what I had.”

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“I was diagnosed with COVID-19 April 2020. I reached out to the office manager [X] and asked her if they were offering anything for residents that were diagnosed with COVID because I got tested the last week of March which was 3/26/2020 and I was waiting for my results to come back because I was symptomatic. X told me she would email me resources that would help with COVID relief. I called every resource number she gave me and it was invalid and did not apply to Arkansas residents. She told me the [Landlord] had a COVID plan for their residents and I received the payment plan agreement form and filled it out stating I would be caught up with April’s rent June 30, 2020.”
[Foster explains: The tenant then goes on to state how the landlord seemingly did not understand that she had applied for unemployment but did not qualify. Her children then caught COVID at the end of May. She relates a number of needed repairs at the time she moved in, either never made or made only after months of requests, like missing screens and a broken exterior door lock. She relates what appears to be a misunderstanding with the landlord about how much is due now. She ends by requesting whether her eviction can be postponed.] “I’m a single mom here I don’t have any family around that can help me. If I can’t postpone the eviction out to then is there any way to please let me know. I have a U Haul reserved and will be out of the residence just asking for a few weeks more little time, please. I read about I have to pay a sum, I’ve never had this happen before and would like to know what that means exactly to be able to postpone move out day. Thank you.”
[Foster explains: “Paying a sum” is Arkansas’ Catch-22 requirement that a tenant who has not been able to pay rent and is now a defendant in an unlawful detainer action, can somehow magically obtain the amount of money in dispute and deposit it with the court, so the tenant can obtain a hearing].

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

Pulaski County Circuit Court:

“We were told [the Landlord] would not accept the rent check [from Salvation Army for rent assistance] because it would take up to two weeks to receive it. The complaint filed against us also states that we were given a three-day notice on the 6th of August which we never received. We were informed by one of the office workers that [the Landlord] had probably forgotten to print the notice. We have always paid our rent in the time frames given to us. We both recently lost our jobs due to the COVID pandemic. We have a six-month-old daughter. We would never intentionally not pay our rent.”

UALR WILLIAM H. BOWEN SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR LYNN FOSTER.

A CLOSER LOOK: evictions increase even with COVID-19 moratorium; tenant stories

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

A CLOSER LOOK: Deadline looms for rental eviction notices

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

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