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Eviction Moratorium May Help Some, But AR Remains Worst in Nation for Renters

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Thursday, September 10, 2020   

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions from now until the end of the year, but renters aren't automatically protected.

The CDC's effort to clamp down on homelessness during the pandemic and into the flu-season months will help some renters, but experts say Arkansas has a dismal record when it comes to renter's rights and rental assistance.

Lynn Foster, emeritus professor of law for the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, said renters have fewer rights in Arkansas than in any other state.

She said the most commonly used eviction procedure for nonpayment of rent is called an unlawful detainer. Under the provision, a tenant has five days to respond to the court order and must pay the owed rent amount in full.

"And in order to have a hearing before the court, they have to find the money that they couldn't pay in the first place and file it with the court," Foster explained. "To my knowledge, we're the only state that has a law like that, and it's clearly designed just to push tenants out as quickly and easily as possible for the landlord."

Foster said the CDC moratorium only applies to tenants who have signed the agency's declaration form and delivered it to their landlord.

Residents can find a copy of the form on the Arkansas Legal Services website.

For assistance, call 501-376-3423 if you live in central, southern and western Arkansas, or 1-800-952-9243 if you live in northwest or north central Arkansas.

Neil Sealy, executive director for Arkansas Renters United and Arkansas Community Organizations, said he worries about so-called "self-help" evictions occurring across the state, despite the CDC moratorium.

He said they often go unreported.

"But it's illegal, and that's when the landlord could cut off utilities and change the locks and force a tenant out, without going through the eviction process," Sealy said.

Foster said the CDC order does not relieve tenants of the obligation to pay rent owed or any late fees or other penalties.

When the moratorium expires on Dec. 31, she fears thousands of renters will ring in the new year owing large sums of money they don't have, with little help available.

"Our rent-assistance program leaves much to be desired," Foster said. "I have looked and looked for some kind of a mass list where a tenant could go to see where they can even apply for rent assistance. I don't think there is one. I haven't found one."

At least 36 states have established a statewide emergency fund to assist renters.

According to Census survey data, around 27% of Arkansas renters who live in households with children said they have no or little confidence they can pay next month's rent.


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