A CLOSER LOOK: rental assistance resources during COVID-19

A Closer Look

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – SEPTEMBER 30: Thousands of court-ordered evictions continue nationwide despite a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium for renters impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Although state and county officials say they have tried to educate the public on the protections, many renters remain unaware and fail to complete the necessary forms to remain in their homes. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Getting behind on rent can happen for several reasons, and beginning in 2020 COVID-19 was the primary reason.

This month, a concerned family member in Hawaii got a phone call from his sister who lives in Bentonville. Six months ago she relocated from Colorado with her son. “She was terrified and crying because the apartment [complex] landlord served her with eviction papers after missing one month of rent,” he said.

He couldn’t believe what happened and assured her that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium could help her. The problem was that the landlord told her they [the complex] are exempt from the moratorium, according to her brother.

She couldn’t pay rent because she’s having trouble getting her unemployment payment from Colorado, and her son was quarantined from work and only received a partial paycheck.

Even 4,000 miles apart, they managed to work out the situation by the following day.

“Good news,” he said, “Legal Aid of Arkansas helped her and by 5 p.m. the apartment complex got the proper paperwork completed.”

She is not alone in trying to pay rent. In 2020, more than 3,000 households in Arkansas faced eviction for nonpayment of rent, according to a report from UALR Professor Emeritus Lynn Foster.

The CDC moratorium has been extended until March 31, 2021. This order prohibits landlords or others with equivalent property rights from evicting “covered persons” from residential properties. The order applies to landlords seeking civil evictions, failure to vacate charges, and illegal self-help evictions.

There are many ways to evict tenants in Arkansas.

  • Failure to vacate: Arkansas is the only state where not paying rent is a crime. Landlords may file a civil or criminal charge against you. Judges can order tenants charged with “failure to vacate” to be arrested.
  • Unlawful Detainer Statute: When an unlawful detainer is filed against the tenant, the statute deprives them of a hearing. If you want a court hearing, you have to pay the court a fee of one month’s rent. It’s a Catch-22.
  • Illegal Self Help Evictions: Landlords change locks, turn off utilities, remove doors, to remove tenants without a court order.
  • Civil Evictions: Also called “2007 Act evictions.” This gives a tenant an automatic court hearing. A landlord may file a proceeding when the tenant fails or refuses to pay rent when due, the occupancy term has ended, terms or conditions of the rental agreement have been violated.

On December 27th, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 established a new $25 billion federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program for state, county, and municipal governments with populations of over 200,000 people to assist those living in rental properties who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to make their rent and utility payments.

Benton County received $8,364,838.50 that can be distributed for this assistance until December 31, 2021. Hark at Excellerate Foundation will work with eligible households to connect them to ERA dollars and other resources, and payment will be made directly to landlords and utility companies on their behalf.

City of Bentonville Community Relations/Economic Dev. Dir. Debbie Griffin

RENTAL ASSISTANCE AGENCIES

Hark is a division of Excellerate Foundation is handling applications for people facing financial hardship because of COVID-19. Hark offers resources in Spanish and Marshallese. The first thing to do is fill out a Hark contact form, or call 2-1-1. This assistance is only for arrearages and not current or next month’s rent.

Fayetteville Housing Authority has funds for 350 families, they received $1.8 million and began accepting applications on February 8, however, applications will only be available until February 22 at 8 a.m. Click here for the Income change reporting form.

Springdale Housing Authority (SHA). This agency offers public housing and applications need to be made online. SHA received $1.5 million to help residents with rent but it’s not clear when the process would begin.

In Washington County, both landlords and renters can apply for assistance — the money is paid directly to landlords, but the money is not available for mortgages, said County Attorney Brian Lester.

If you are facing eviction you may consider consulting a lawyer. There are two agencies that may be able to help give you advice at no cost:

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

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