Debtors Prison in America: 1 Day Late on Rent Can Land You in Jail? in Arkansas
Angela and Steve were lucky the judge was a bit understanding: he dismissed all charges and granted them another week to move out. But not everyone is so lucky when it comes to the state of Arkansas’ harsh tenant laws.
Arkansas is the only U.S. state where tenants can wind up with a criminal record if they can’t afford to pay their rent on time. The state’s “failure to vacate” laws allow landlords, without independent investigation, to charge tenants with a misdemeanor offense and have them arrested if they fail to move out after receiving a 10-day eviction notice. Landlords can give tenants the notice after they are only one day late with their payment.
The reason Arkansas has such harsh tenant laws dates back to 2007, when the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act passed, stripping landlords of many responsibilities while burdening tenants. Currently, while tenants are supposed to properly dispose of waste, landlords have no obligation to provide them with garbage receptacles. Landlords are also not required to provide tenants with safe or sanitary property; they are, however, allowed to enter their tenants’ property whenever they deem fit.
Human Rights Watch documented these abuses in its recent report titled, “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’s Draconian Evictions Law.”