Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Arkansas
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Landlords in Arkansas can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Arkansas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 17, 2021
Facing eviction is scary and stressful. If you’re being threatened with an eviction because of past-due rent, you’ll have to deal with your financial difficulties as well as potentially find a new place to live. Knowing what legal protections you have can ease some of the stress. This article provides a basic overview of the eviction process in Arkansas, including renters’ rights, and the different reasons a landlord might want to evict a tenant. If you’re behind on paying your rent or your lease is about to exposure or be terminated, this article can help.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process that allows a landlord to remove a renter or tenant from a rental property. Arkansas’ eviction proceedings are similar to many other states. But one major difference is that evictions in Arkansas can be a criminal or civil matter. In all other states, evictions are only civil matters. But in Arkansas, landlords can bring criminal charges against tenants who don’t leave after receiving an eviction notice.
Despite allowing both criminal and civil eviction proceedings, many of the evictions in Arkansas are civil proceedings that follow the requirements set out in the Arkansas Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 2007. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant without following the requirements set out in Arkansas law, then the landlord will be committing an illegal eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in Arkansas?
Most evictions in Arkansas take place between landlords and tenants. Tenants are individuals who’ve entered into a lease or rental agreement. In return for paying rent to the landlord, the tenant has the right to live on a particular piece of property for a set period of time. As a general rule, those living with a tenant can also be evicted, even if they aren’t on the lease.
Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Arkansas?
Renters can get evicted in Arkansas for the same major reasons as almost any other renter in the United States. Most evictions in Arkansas will occur for one or more of the following reasons:
Nonpayment of rent.
A breach of one or more of the lease’s terms (other than the requirement to pay rent).
The termination or expiration of the lease.
The eviction process the landlord uses will depend primarily on whether the landlord is trying to evict a tenant for the nonpayment of rent or something else.
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Arkansas Eviction Process if You’re Late, Short, or Behind on Rent
If you’re late or short on rent, you have five days to become current under Arkansas law. Your landlord may terminate the lease and begin an eviction action against you if you can’t become current with your rent during that time period. But this five-day grace period could be longer if your lease allows for it. Evictions due to the nonpayment of rent can occur with a civil or criminal action.
Civil Evictions in Arkansas Circuit Court for Unpaid Rent
There are two ways a landlord can evict you in civil court. The first method is called unlawful detainer. It takes place in Arkansas circuit court. But before your landlord can take this approach, they must provide you with a 3-day notice to quit. This gives you three days to move out. If you don’t, the eviction will begin.
The unlawful detainer eviction begins when the landlord files a complaint against you in court. This will explain what the landlord wants the court to do and their legal basis for making that request. The court will then issue a summons, which tells you that you’re being sued, who is suing you, and that you may file an answer (or objection) to the landlord’s complaint.
The landlord will serve you (or an adult family member living with you) with a copy of the complaint and summons. Service can be completed in person by a sheriff’s deputy or a court-appointed process server. If in-person service is not possible, the complaint and summons can be mailed via certified or first class mail. The court won’t acknowledge service by mail unless the landlord receives a receipt or acknowledgment proving you were served.
If you believe you shouldn’t be evicted, you must file an objection with the court. This is your written response to the landlord’s complaint explaining why you believe your landlord shouldn’t evict you. Your objection is due five days after you get served with the complaint and summons. If you don’t file an objection, the landlord will automatically win the eviction case when the court enters a default judgment against you.
If you want to continue living at the property during the eviction process, you must also deposit money with the court registry. The amount is equal to any rent the landlord claims you owe. You must also continue making rent payments as they become due to the court registry while the court decides your case.
This is a fairly harsh requirement for tenants, as it’s possible to have a valid defense for an eviction, yet not have the cash available to meet this deposit requirement. Many courts in Arkansas recognize this challenge for tenants, so the deposit requirement isn’t always enforced. So if you want to oppose the eviction, but can’t afford the deposit, you should still file objections anyway.
Civil Evictions in Arkansas District Court for Unpaid Rent
The second civil eviction option takes place in Arkansas district court. It’s similar to the unlawful detainer option in that the landlord will file a complaint with the court explaining the reason for the eviction. But after filing the complaint with the court, the court will order you to either vacate the premises or appear in court within 10 days to respond to the landlord’s allegations.
With an unlawful detainer eviction, a court hearing is only scheduled if you file an objection. But with this district court eviction, you don’t need to file anything to fight the eviction. Instead, all you need to do is show up in district court. That said, it helps to come prepared with evidence, such as witnesses, documents, pictures, video, and so on. But if you don’t show up to your court date in either district court or circuit court (in the case of an unlawful detainer action), you’ll likely lose your case and the judge will grant the landlord’s request to evict you.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
Whether you’re in circuit court or district court, if you want to oppose the eviction, you’ll need to present your defenses. You can do this by asserting one or more affirmative defenses or counterclaims.
An affirmative defense is a legal defense you raise that invalidates the landlord’s reasons for evicting you. An example might be that you believe your landlord’s eviction is in retaliation for you making a complaint to a local government agency about a building code violation in the apartment building.
A counterclaim is a separate legal claim you make against your landlord. For instance, your landlord wants to evict you for not fully paying your rent each month. But you haven’t been paying your full monthly rent because you believe your landlord committed fraud by tricking you into signing a new lease. Suing your landlord for fraud would be a counterclaim.
Arkansas allows tenants to raise affirmative defenses and counterclaims. But when you must do so depends on the type of eviction proceeding you’re in. If you’re in an unlawful detainer eviction suit in circuit court, you must present these claims in your objection to the landlord’s complaint. But if you’re in district court, you can raise these defenses on the day of your hearing.
Criminal Evictions in Arkansas for Unpaid Rent
The criminal eviction option is what sets Arkansas apart from all other states. This is only available if the eviction is due to unpaid rent. This approach is sometimes called the “failure to vacate” method, and it begins when your landlord gives you 10 days’ notice to leave the property. In many cases, the landlord won’t give you this notice. Instead, a sheriff’s deputy will.
If you don’t leave within the 10 day notice period, your landlord can go to the local prosecutor’s office and ask them to criminally prosecute you for violating Arkansas Code. You won’t be arrested for this, but you’ll be issued a citation and given a court date. This is where you’ll be arraigned and enter your plea. If you plead not guilty, a trial will be scheduled. At trial, you’ll have a chance to present any defenses you might have to the eviction.
One thing to keep in mind is that while you won’t get arrested for not moving out, you can get arrested for not showing up at your court date. The judge may issue a failure to appear warrant for your arrest if you don’t appear in court.
You don’t have to hire an attorney for an eviction, but when facing criminal charges for an eviction, it’s a good idea to at least consult with a tenant’s rights lawyer. And if a warrant has been issued because you didn’t show up in court, talking with a criminal attorney is also recommended. Even if you’re not facing criminal charges, an eviction attorney can explain the rights and privileges that may be available to you, such as emergency rental assistance.
If you’re found guilty in your criminal eviction proceeding, you could be fined up to $25 for each day you remain on the property and end up with a misdemeanor criminal conviction. The judge will also order you to leave the property.
Arkansas Eviction Process in Case of a Lease Termination
If your landlord sues to evict you because of the expiration or termination of your lease, the process will be the same as if the landlord is suing you for unpaid rent, but with two differences. The first difference is that they can use the criminal eviction process. The second difference is the amount of notice required.
For lease expirations, notice requirements vary based on the length of your tenancy:
If you have a week-to-week tenancy, then your landlord must give you seven days to leave.
If you have a month-to-month tenancy, then you have 30 days to leave.
If you have a six-month or 12-month lease, then your landlord doesn’t have to give you any notice, unless your lease says otherwise.
If your landlord terminates your lease because you breached one or more major provisions, they must give you 14 days’ notice. At the end of these 14 days, you must have either moved out or cured the breach (meaning you addressed the issue). If you do neither, your landlord can proceed with the eviction.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
After the trial, the court will make a decision. This decision could come the same day. But if there’s a jury trial, it could take longer. After the decision, the court will enter a judgment in favor of the winning party.
If either side is unhappy with the decision, they can file an appeal. If you lose the case but want to continue living at the property during your appeal, you’ll need to post an appeal bond with the court. The court determines this amount, but it’ll likely be enough to cover the landlord’s claimed damages. If you don’t post this appeal bond within five days of serving notice of your appeal to the landlord, your appeal will be dismissed.
Assuming you lost your eviction case and accept the court’s judgment, the court will issue a writ of possession within three days of the judgment being entered in favor of the landlord. After you’re served with the writ of possession, you have 24 hours to move out. If you don’t, a sheriff’s deputy may physically remove you and your belongings.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Arkansas
The moment you receive your notice to quit, if you plan on fighting the eviction, you should identify and gather any evidence you’ll want to support your defenses. This includes copies of rent payment receipts, bank statements, a copy of your lease, photographs, and so on. If applicable, you may want to have a municipal building inspector or contractor visit the property to give their opinion on its condition. Their testimony at trial or their report will be useful if one of your defenses is that something was wrong with the rental property.
It’s important to appear at your eviction hearing if you want to fight the eviction. If you can’t appear, you can ask the court for a continuance to reschedule the hearing. There’s no guarantee they’ll grant it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Even if they decline to reschedule the hearing, a judge is less likely to grant the landlord a default judgment and issue a writ of possession knowing that you had a good reason for not appearing in court.
Consider negotiating with your landlord. If the reason for the eviction is something you can fix, explain that to your landlord. Many landlords want to avoid the eviction process, so they may be willing to give you a little bit of extra time to remedy the lease violations (such as finding a new home for the pet you’re not supposed to have) or to make up past-due rent payments. Not only will you then still have a place to live, but you’ll avoid having an eviction in your rental history, which can make finding another rental unit difficult.
Just remember that any agreement you make should be put into writing and signed by both you and your landlord. Also, don’t forget to properly document your part of the agreement, such as getting a receipt when you make a rent payment.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many lawyers and nonprofit organizations are willing to assist with your eviction. This is particularly true since the CDC’s coronavirus pandemic eviction moratorium is no longer in effect.
Tenant Resources in Arkansas
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge – Landlord and Tenant Rights