One out of every three Arkansans is a renter, yet Arkansas residential tenants have fewer rights than tenants in any other state.
That is the finding of a non-partisan commission charged with examining current tenant/landlord law in Arkansas.
One Conway woman is in total agreement.
It's no big surprise when your landlord finds some flimsy reason to keep most or all of your security deposit. But the advantages landlords have over tenants in Arkansas go far beyond that.
And one Conway woman facing eviction says "There Oughta be a Law" to help tenants.
In fact…she says there oughta be several.
On Monday Ramona Staggs will begin a battle against melanoma cancer.
A week later she will be facing eviction...even though she is paid up on her rent.
"I asked him why he wanted me to move and he said…his words were…because I aggravate too much," says Staggs. "The only time I call him is when something is broke."
Staggs says she has had problems with her toilet, refrigerator, heater and air conditioning.
We had an HVAC repairman visit her mobile home on Friday. He tells us the air conditioning unit is "a piece of junk."
He says Staggs' landlord…Ricky White…had tried to adjust the thermostat's heat-anticipator rather than put in a new thermostat…a move that Staggs says raised last month's electric bill by $100 dollars.
"What about your repair work? Are you licensed to do that?"
"I didn't know you had to be licensed to work on your own stuff," Ricky White told us in a phone interview. White says he has operated White's Rental Properties for over 20 years and has 20 other tenants.
And White is right. You don't have to be licensed to work on your own properties.
In fact, as a landlord in Arkansas you don't have to fix stuff in your rent home at all if you don't want to…unless a local ordinance requires it.
Not the heater. Not the air conditioner. Not the fridge.
"Unfortunately in Arkansas there is no Warranty of Habitability," says Stephen Giles.
Last year Giles, a Little Rock attorney, headed a ten member commission that studied landlord/tenant laws in Arkansas.
They determined that when a landlord and tenant are pitted against one another in Arkansas, the deck is heavily stacked in the landlord's favor.
"Under most circumstances it is really not a fair fight," says Giles. "And we're just trying to even the playing field."
The commission's 36 page report recommends several changes in addition to advocating for a Warranty of Habitability…which would mandate that landlords keep their properties safe and livable.
Arkansas is the only state where failing to pay rent can be considered a crime. The commission says that should be abolished.
It also says there oughta be laws against retaliatory eviction and self-help eviction methods like changing the locks or cutting off electricity.
And a statute that would limit a landlord's access to an occupied property.
Ramona would add a law that would require a landlord be licensed if he wants to work on electricity or plumbing.
"If they're not certified to fix things I think they should hire somebody to fix it," says Staggs. "And if they can't hire anybody to fix it they don't need to be renting the places. I just think something needs to be done about how landlords treat tenants. Especially single tenants who, you know, they think they can walk all over and I just don't think it's right. I mean…we should have rights."
Her landlord calls Staggs a chronic complainer.
"She just needs to move," says White.
Despite the exhaustive work that his commission did, Giles is a bit concerned that nearly two months into the legislative session no bills have been filed to strengthen tenant rights in Arkansas.
He remains optimistic that something will be filed soon, and he expects some resistance from the lobbying arms of realtor and landlord groups. Tenants, of course, have no such lobbyists and are once again at a disadvantage.
If you would like to read the commission's 36 page report yourself, visit www.arkansasjustice.org.
Air date: February 22nd, 2013
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