Washington Co. JP pushes for minimum standards for rental housing properties

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A Washington County Justice of the Peace is pushing to give more rights to renters in the area.

However, not everyone is on board with minimum standards for rental housing properties after taking a first look at this ordinance.

A functioning smoke alarm, source of electricity, source of heating, and an operable entry door are just a few of nine conditions a landlord must meet under an ordinance Washington County Justice of the Peace Sue Madison is pushing for.

“When you pay somebody money, when you’re renting with your hard-earned money going to pay for a place that you’re going to live, it really ought to meet some minimum standards,” Madison said.

However, the ordinance does not impose a penalty if these conditions are not met.  

“Sometimes the option at the lower rental rates are not broad. You might have just a few to pick from, and they might not be very good places. What I will always remember is — children don’t get to pick where they live,” Madison said.

Madison said a house fire near West Fork killed two children because of its living conditions.

“The fire chief came to me and wanted something done. The house only had one entry point, and two children were sleeping in a room that had no door to the outside and no windows. The front door was blocked, so they couldn’t get to the children.”

Arkansas is the only state in the country without an implied warranty of habitability law.

Similar bills have failed to make it out of the legislature in the past. This ordinance was met with some criticism from the quorum court.

“I don’t think the quorum court has the people or the sheriff’s department or anyone else with the authority to enforce this, and that’s my only issue with it,” Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison said.

Justice of the Peace Lance Johnson added, “it’s my belief that the people that may be helped by this information would never ever see it or know it. I mean, the good landlords don’t need it, the people that have educated themselves on how to lease a property don’t need it. The rest of them will never see it. I don’t think we’re going to accomplish anything with this.”

The ordinance specifies that the tenant would still owe the rent even if the conditions are not met.

“I would think most landlords would not want to knowingly ignore the law. The legislature tried this over and over, so I thought Washington County has been a leader in many things and we do have a lot of tenant-occupied dwellings, so why can’t Washington County have an ordinance?” Madison asked.

At this point Madison says provisions still need to be made, then it will be taken back to committee.

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