Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Arkansas not paying rent is a crime

Arkansas, the only state in the nation that classifies the nonpayment of rent (while remaining on the property) as a criminal act, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, reported The Marshall Project. In every other state, disputes over rent are considered a civil matter, in which the worst that can happen is eviction.  If a landlord in Arkansas claims that a tenant is even one day late in making a payment, he can stick the tenant with a ten-day notice to vacate. If the tenant has not vacated after the ten days, the landlord may file an affidavit for an arrest warrant, which the local sheriff will then promptly carry out.
Arkansas' law has exactly one precedent – a Florida statute enacted in 1933 and repealed in 1973 that criminalized the act of "holding over," i.e. staying in a property beyond the end of the lease, which was considered a form of trespassing.
According to a 2013 analysis by Lynn Foster, a law professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, over 2,000 Arkansans per year are prosecuted as criminals for not meeting rent deadlines. Of these, Foster found, a plurality were low-income black women.
“This is really the worst of what we call the ‘criminalization of poverty,’” says Amy Johnson, the executive director of Arkansas Access to Justice and an expert on landlord-tenant policies in the state. “You see it elsewhere, with debtors’ prisons – people sentenced to jail only because they can’t afford to pay fees,” as well as the quality-of-life policing used in some cities, by which the homeless are arrested for loitering in the street.
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