The Arkansas eviction process can provide for severe repercussions to tenants who fail to pay their rent. For any tenant who breaches the rental agreement, there is only a limited time to remedy the cause for the eviction. An Arkansas landlord has a choice of using two different eviction procedures to use in evicting a tenant if the reason is for nonpayment of rent: Unlawful Detainer, which is civil eviction, or Failure to Vacate, which is a criminal eviction.
A landlord may only use the criminal eviction process if the reason is for nonpayment of rent. Arkansas is the only state with a criminal eviction process, and recent rulings suggest it may be on the way out (see more below).
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No landlord may use self-help measures to forcibly evict a tenant. Examples of prohibited self help include shutting off utilities, denying access to the leased premises, or threatening the tenant that he or she may be subject to damages.
The Arkansas eviction process is unique among the states by making it a misdemeanor for failure to pay rent if the landlord chooses to evict the tenant by initiating a special “failure to vacate” action.
Arkansas Eviction Notice Requirements
All landlords must abide by the Arkansas eviction notice process with the 3-Day Notice to Quit being served on the tenant by either the landlord or the landlord’s agent (if the landlord chooses the typical “unlawful detainer” method of eviction). In this case, the tenant is only given 3 days to pay the entire amount due with the date of service counted as the first day.
Should the landlord wish to terminate the lease agreement because of material noncompliance with the rental agreement, he or she must give the tenant a 14 Day Notice to comply or to remedy the problem. The notice must specify the particular lease provision that has been breached and advise the tenant that compliance must be done by a specific date.
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Both landlord and tenant must follow any Arkansas eviction notice requirements specified in the written rental agreement. If there is no written rental agreement, a landlord may terminate the lease at any time and for any reason once the landlord has given the tenant one rental period’s notice.
If the landlord chooses to use the failure to vacate method, which may only be used for cases of nonpayment of rent, the landlord must serve written notice giving the tenant 10 days to fully comply.
If the landlord uses the unlawful detainer, or civil method of eviction, the tenant will be served with a Summons and Complaint in Unlawful Detainer once the 3 day or 14 day notice period has expired. Once served, the tenant only has 5 days to file an objection or the landlord can obtain a Writ of Possession to have the tenant evicted by the sheriff. Otherwise, a hearing will be scheduled, which is done in two parts as follows:
- Summary Proceeding
If the tenant files a timely objection, the court will schedule a summary proceeding whereby the court only determines which party shall have sole possession of the rental property. The landlord needs to only present a prima facie case that he or she is entitled to possession such as failure to pay rent or evidence that substantial damage was done to the unit. The tenant does have defenses available in these matters such as the following:
- The landlord has a policy of accepting late rent payments.
- The landlord accepted partial payment of the rent, thus waiving his or her right to continue the eviction proceeding.
- There was no material noncompliance with a lease term.
- The tenant had to make needed repairs that the landlord was obligated to make and failed to do so after notice was given and the tenant deducted the cost of the repairs.
- The eviction is in retaliation for the tenant having complained about the unit’s condition or for having joined a tenant’s union.
- The landlord engaged in self-help measures to forcibly evict the tenant.
- The eviction is based on the tenant’s religion, national origin, pregnancy or disability.
If the court rules that the landlord is likely to prevail on a full hearing of the merits, the court will issue a Writ of Possession to the landlord who must post adequate security, such as a bond.
If the tenant has adequate defenses and wishes to remain in possession, he or she must post adequate security within 5 days after the Writ of Possession is issued. However the amount of the security may be set at whatever amount the court feels is adequate.
In most cases, tenants will not put a bond or post security and will be subject to forcible eviction once the sheriff receives the Writ of Possession and serves it on the tenant.
- Trial on the Merits
If a tenant manages to get to this phase of the eviction proceeding, then a full determination regarding rightful possession, if challenged, and any issues of damages is heard.
In most cases, this hearing determines the amount of damages owed to the landlord or to the tenant if he or she is able to successfully assert a defense such as self-eviction or the landlord’s failure to make obligated repairs.
Failure to Vacate – Criminal Form of Eviction
The Arkansas eviction process includes a criminal method of eviction–the failure to vacate action–which may only be used for nonpayment of rent. After the 10 days has lapsed and the rent has not been paid and the tenant has not vacated the property, the local prosecutor can charge the tenant with a class B misdemeanor though it may be classified as more of a violation than a criminal offense since the tenant is not subject to imprisonment.
If charges are brought, the court can impose a fine of $1.00 to $25.00 per day for each day the tenant remains in the unit. Each day that the tenant remains in possession is considered a separate offense. It should be noted that some counties in the state rarely use this method of eviction. In many other cases, a judge may dismiss the charges if the tenant agrees to immediately vacate the property.
The court under this method cannot order the tenant to vacate the property though any tenant subject to substantial fines will likely vacate at his or her earliest opportunity.
A low-income tenant is not entitled to a public defender in these cases since there is no potential for a sentence of imprisonment.
Please note that recent court rulings in Arkansas show a trend that this entire practice of criminal eviction may be held unconstitutional. After all, being a broke tenant should not be considered a crime when there are other quick civil remedies for Landlords.