Don’t Throw Tenants in Jail for Being Late on Rent

Arkansas Flag

Target: Arkansas State Legislature

Goal: Reverse law that allows landlords to discriminate against minorities and evict tenants wrongfully.

A new law in the state of Arkansas has made it a criminal offense to not pay your rent, substantially targeting minorities that are already under severe economic strain. The law in effect allows tenants to be charged with misdemeanor criminal charges if they do not vacate their homes within 10 days of receiving a ‘failure to pay’ notice – a law which has no parallel in any other US state.  In 2012, the law enabled the state to bring charges against more than 1,200 Arkansas residents alone, most prominently blacks and Latinos.

Under the current Arkansas state law, a landlord can demand that a tenant vacate a property within 10 days of failing to pay rent on time or in full. Failure to vacate within the ten days allows the landlord permission to file for an arrest warrant, charging their former tenant with a misdemeanor offense. Even worse, the law discourages tenants from defending themselves by requiring anyone planning to plead not guilty to deposit the total amount of rent they owe within the court, which they will forfeit if they are found guilty. Tenants pleading not guilty who are unable to pay the deposit face substantially harsher fines and can be forced to serve up to 90 days in jail.

Human Rights Watch published the 44-page report, “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’s Criminal Evictions Law.” While the report largely focuses on personal interviews of tenants impacted by the law, the report also outlines HRW’s professional opinion of how the law unjustly tramples the fundamental rights of tenants while simultaneously criminalizing economic hardships.

The Criminal Evictions Law is unjust, poorly written, and inconsistently implemented across the state. Further, recommendations to reform the law have already been made by a non-legislative commission on landlord-tenant law established by the state government.

By signing the petition below, you can help urge the Arkansas State Legislature to take the recommendations of the non-legislative commission and Human Rights Watch more seriously. The Arkansas State Legislature should repeal the current law and replace it with a more efficient and just civil evictions process immediately.


Dear Arkansas State Legislature,

Your current Criminal Evictions State Law is unjust, poorly written, inconsistently implemented, and disproportionately targets minorities already under severe economic strain. Your law has been labeled as inhumane and unjust by prominent human rights organizations as well as the January 2013 non-legislative commission on landlord-tenant law that you established and should be repealed immediately.

Not only is this law disproportionally and unjustly impacting the lives of economically strained minorities, but it is also unparalleled in harshness across the United States, making Arkansas a state that treats tenants as criminals.

I am urging you to take the recommendations made earlier this year by both Human Rights Watch and the January 2013 non-legislative commission on landlord-tenant law more seriously by repealing the current law and replacing it with one more in line with other US state civil evictions processes. Please take action to better protect your state’s citizen’s rights and repeal this law immediately.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: commons via wikimedia

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  1. If you take a loaf of bread, a bag of potatoes, a car, a television or a gold ring, without paying for it, you are stealing and taking away the owners right to sell that item in order to earn a living for their family and you will hopefully be prosecuted for your crime and be made to recompense the owner in some way.
    Not paying your rent, is also THEFT because you are taking away the property owners right to use that house, apartment or mobile home, which they have purchased, to earn a living for themselves and their own family.
    If you don’t want to pay rent, go out and buy your own property or sleep rough in a cardboard box, the choice is yours.
    I have no sympathy or patience for thieves.

    • Thanks for your comment, Syd. My concern is that the punishment in this particular case is unparalleled in any other US state, meaning Arkansas tenants are treated drastically differently than say, tenants in Mississippi. I hope this clarifies my position.

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