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Federal Lawsuit Challenges AR 'Failure to Vacate' Statute Against Renters

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Friday, September 10, 2021   

MALVERN, Ark. -- Arkansas is the only state in the country with what's known as a "failure to vacate" statute, which criminalizes the failure to pay rent, and a federal case filed last week challenged the law.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Cynthia and Terry Easley, a couple living with disabilities in Hot Spring County, one of the few counties where the failure-to-vacate statute is still utilized. The Easleys have not had running water in their home for more than a year and were served with a failure-to-vacate notice in April, which said they had 10 days to leave their home or face prosecution.

Natasha Baker, staff attorney at Equal Justice Under Law, which filed the lawsuit, said the goal is to put an end to a law which scares residents into self-eviction.

"There is no reason to have a law that criminalizes poverty," Baker asserted. "There is no reason to be arresting and jailing people for not paying rent when there is a civil landlord-tenant court system that is designed to resolve landlord-tenant disputes."

Arkansas also does not legally require landlords to provide a habitable place to live for tenants. Along with Equal Justice Under Law, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Bowen Legal Clinic is involved in the case.

Housing advocates in Arkansas have been trying to get rid of the failure-to-vacate statute for years.

Lynn Foster, president of Arkansans for Stronger Communities, said repealing the law would be a huge win for Arkansas renters.

"The statute is harmful because it criminalizes a breach of a contract," Foster argued. "Imagine if a late payment on your credit card was a crime. Imagine if a late payment on your mortgage was a crime. That's what kind of a statute this is."

There are still at least six counties in Arkansas, including Hot Spring, that use the eviction process. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas against Hot Spring County.


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