Arkansas is the only state in America that implements a law forcing tenants who do not pay rent and do not vacate a property to be placed in jail.
A recent report published by Human Rights Watch explores the law. In the report, titled “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’s Criminal Evictions Law,” it explains that renters have been “dragged into criminal court for transgressions that would not be a crime in any other U.S. state.”
The failure-to-vacate law allows those who do not vacate a property to be charged in court.
The report states:
The failure-to-vacate law was used to bring charges against more than 1,200 Arkansas tenants in 2012 alone. This figure greatly understates the total number of people impacted by the law. The vast majority of tenants scramble to move out when faced with a 10-day notice to vacate rather than face trial – and with good reason.
Making matters considerably worse, the law strongly discourages accused tenants from pleading not guilty. Those who do are required to deposit the total amount of rent they allegedly owe with the court, which they forfeit if they are found guilty. Tenants who are unable to deposit the rent amount but plead not guilty anyway face substantially harsher fines and up to 90 days in jail. Tenants who plead guilty face none of this.
The group is arguing that landlords take advantage of this law, while courts do not make any effort to check the validity of their claims.
Many prosecutors have filed charges on tenants based solely on the claims of a landlord.
One woman allegedly was given an arrest warrant just three days after her landlord ordered her to move out.
Another man had made false claims on a woman who purchased a home from him, and was given multiple arrest warrants, though she had paid it in full.
The human rights group wants the law repealed and the evictions to be replaced with a civil process.