Report highlights negative impacts of Arkansas's landlord-tenant laws

UAMS College of Public Health Report on Landlord-Tenant Laws

A new report out this week by the UAMS College of Public Health and Arkansas Community Organizations highlights the negative health impacts on Arkansans stemming from the state's lack of laws protecting renters. The report focuses on the state's lack of an implied habitability warranty, stressing the need to create a habitability warranty in the only state that doesn't have one.

"I couldn't get into my apartment to get any clothes or anything," recalled Marcia Nance, an Arkansas transplant from Detroit.

Nance rented an apartment in southwest Little Rock back in 1995. She recounted issues then with her plumbing, maintenance calls going unanswered - eventually leading to the complex being shut down by the city. The complex received Section 8 housing money, although Nance said she received no housing assistance - paying just $300 a month.

"I think a lot of them figure if the rent is low like that, that you should be happy with whatever you get," said Nance.

The report titled, "Out of Balance: Arkansas Renters Share their Experiences Navigating the State's Unique Landlord-Tenant Laws," shows many lower-income residents experience similar problems to Nance - all due to the state's lack of a habitability warranty.

A habitability warranty guarantees basic rights like running water, working plumbing, and proper heating and cooling to a person renting from a landlord. Right now in Arkansas, unless those guarantees are written into a lease agreement, things like a leaky-roof don't legally have to be fixed by the landlord.

Of the 1,108 renters surveyed, nearly one in three said they had issues getting problems resolved by their landlords. The majority of those problems centered on plumbing, heating and cooling systems and pest control.

"We asked people if the landlords fixed those problems and only about half of those one-third of renters got solutions from their landlords," said Ashley Bachelder, survey coordinator and program manager at UAMS College of Public Health.

The report also found that Hispanic tenants were 41% more likely to experience problems with their landlords than white respondents.

But the report also focused on the health impacts caused by ongoing housing issues.

"People reported increased blood pressure that they attributed to their housing issues, breathing problems, bites from bug infestations," said Bachelder. "We really believe that this is a public health issue."

"We believe you can craft a common sense warranty that would not give extreme power to the bad people of either side," said Howard Warren, president of the Landlords Association of Arkansas.

Warren acknowledged that landlord-tenant laws in Arkansas tend to favor landlords and agrees with tenants that there should be some protections for renters. Warren said he helped co-author a bill to create a habitability warranty in the 2015 spring legislative session. He said with every other state having a habitability law of their own, Arkansas is able to see what works and what doesn't - but Warren's bill still failed in committee.

A similar bill also never made it out of committee in 2013. A Seven on Your Side story in 2013 uncovered an e-mail sent by the Arkansas Realtors Association, citing their intent to squash the bill, saying, "We have won the battle of 2013 Landlord Tenant engagement. All three bills will not make it out of committee." The e-mail went on to say, "we are in a war-not a battle," saying, "we will win again in 2015." That ended up being the case.

Warren said he's willing to work again with tenants to draw up another habitability warranty, but said he doesn't plan on introducing one this next legislative session.

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