As a landlord, you have considerable rights and flexibility regarding Arkansas residential lease agreements. For instance, you have no obligation to make repairs or to maintain the premises or even to provide a fit and habitable residence, unless you expressly so provide in the rental agreement. You also are not liable for any injuries to the tenant from a defective condition. In other words, tenants take the apartment on an “as-is” basis.
There is an exception if you knew of the defect and failed to advise your tenant or if you do undertake the repairs but do so negligently, though this is standard negligence law. Also, landlords have to comply with local building and housing codes that at least may require a unit to have adequate heat, air, plumbing, electrical and ventilation systems.
Whether you want to give the responsibility of making repairs to your tenants is an issue to consider carefully since you will want the premises to be in good condition to protect your investment, to rent it out at market rates and to attract suitable and reliable tenants. Also, a rental unit in poor condition will not only fail to rent at rates you will want but you may only attract tenants with poor credit, who fail to pay the rent on time, if at all, or who pose problems with other tenants.
Arkansas is also unique in that tenants who fail to pay the rent can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. This is enforced unevenly around the state as many jurisdictions choose not to arrest a tenant for nonpayment of rent though such tenants face penalties of up to $25 per day for holding over.
Obligations of the Landlord
Landlords have to abide by state and federal laws banning discrimination in housing. This means you may not refuse to rent to, or advertise or treat tenants differently, based on race, color, gender, family status, national origin or disability. You also cannot reject an applicant who has been a victim of domestic violence. You may reject an applicant for bad credit, poor or no references, a history of evictions, a criminal record or for insufficient income.
Otherwise, you are generally free to contract on whatever terms you wish in your rental agreement, though you may not self-evict without a court order or simply enter the unit whenever you wish. As noted, you have no obligation to make any necessary repairs or to remove a dangerous or hazardous condition so long as you advised the tenant.
Obligations of the Tenant
Tenants have certain responsibilities, including:
- Paying the rent on time
- Obeying the law
- Using the premises for its intended purpose—no commercial activity
- Keeping it clean and sanitary and properly dispose of trash
- Using all appliances and other systems such as plumbing, electrical, heat, air, and ventilation in an appropriate fashion
- Not damaging or defacing the premises
- When vacating, returning it in the same condition as when first rented
- If in the contract, promptly notifying the landlord of needed repairs
- Notifying the landlord if there is to be extended absence from the premises
- Not disturbing the quiet enjoyment of other tenants
Terms of the Lease
Though an oral rental agreement is valid, you will want a written lease so you can minimize the risks of a dispute over certain terms and possible court action that can be expensive. Also, many of these provisions, including ones on security deposit and procedures, only apply to landlords who own 6 or more rental units or if the owner has the property managed by a third party or property management company.
Even though many of these provisions are only recommended, having a good relationship with your tenant is always a goal if you want cooperative, paying and law abiding tenants who will also keep your units in good condition.
Consider the following terms for your rental lease agreement:
- Name of landlord and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid and where request for repairs are to be directed
- Names of the tenants and other occupants—have all adult tenants sign the lease so that both are jointly and severally liable for the lease terms, including the rent
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Amount of rent, due date, and grace period (5 days) and amount of late fees
- Returned check fees—$10 to $50 though normally $25
- Security deposit—no more than 2-month’s rent, no interest required or that funds be deposited in an separate account; return funds within 60-days of tenant vacating unit or submit written, itemized statement with specific reasons for withholding deposit by mail with return receipt requested within this time—recommend you include right of the tenant to request a mutual inspection of the premises shortly before or after tenant vacates
- Signed, separate statement of the premises’ move-in condition including list of current damages to be given to tenant and signed by tenant after inspecting premises (not required but recommended)
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance and of services—if you want the tenant to make certain repairs, then indicate this in the lease
- Obligations of tenant as noted above—you may include rules of conduct that are for the convenience, peace, safety and welfare of all the tenants
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No commercial, business or unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas; may charge a fee if along with other fees (not the security deposit) are not more than 2-month’s rent combined
- Subletting clause—if you allow it, state the rent that the sublessee must pay
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers or if the tenant has been causing a disturbance or is otherwise violating the lease—no statutory notice required though you should give at least a 24-hour notice as a courtesy; indicate that you may enter immediately if it is an emergency that threatens the safety of tenants or that the unit is in imminent danger of being damaged
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations—10-days for nonpayment of rent and 3-days for other material violations
- Notice for increasing rent—30 days for a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose)
- Right to take a lien on tenant’s personal property for nonpayment of rent after obtaining a court order
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
So long as you own at least 6 rental dwellings, you are required to abide by the state’s law on security deposits. You may not charge more than 2-month’s rent but you do not have to deposit the funds in a separate, interest bearing account. The deposit can be used to pay for damages that exceed normal wear and tear or for unpaid rent after the tenant vacates.
Within 60-days after the tenant vacates, you must return the full deposit or send by certified mail an itemized list of the damages and their costs. If no forwarding address is sent to you and you cannot locate the tenant within 180 days, then you may retain the entire deposit.
Termination of the Lease
Leases with fixed terms expire on the last day of the agreement. These leases can become month-to-month once you allow the tenant to remain or unless you enter into a new, fixed term agreement. For monthly leases, you can give a 30-day notice to vacate without cause.
For nonpayment of rent, you can give a 10-day unconditional notice to quit. If the tenant fails to pay or vacate, or which is called a “failure to vacate” form of eviction, the tenant faces arrest for criminal misdemeanor charges and fined up to $25 per day for each day the tenant remains in the unit after the 10-day period.
For any other violation, serve a 3-day notice to quit followed by your filing a complaint in court. Once the summons is served, the tenant has 5-days to object to the eviction or there is a default. Further, if the vacating tenant left personal property on the premises and has rent outstanding, that property becomes yours to be disposed of as you wish.
Military Members Exception
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, a tenant who is a member of the Armed Forces including the national guard or Coast Guard or any of the uniformed services can terminate a fixed term lease or any other lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days and a copy of the orders is given to the landlord. This also applies if the tenant is ordered to reside in government-supplied quarters. The tenant is required to give 30-days’ notice if practical and to pay for the remainder of that month’s rent but with no further obligations under the lease.
Domestic Violence Exception
You may not refuse to rent to nor terminate the lease of a tenant who is the victim of domestic violence. Such tenants may elect to terminate a fixed term lease upon proper notice and proof of their domestic violence status. At the request of the tenant, you must change the locks to the unit but may charge the tenant for the expense. The tenant has to provide proof of domestic violence status by providing you a copy of a protective order or police report of an incident within 60-days of the date of termination. You should have the domestic violence abuser evicted if he or she is a tenant as you have a legal obligation to protect your tenants.
What is Constructive Eviction?
There may be circumstances where the condition of a premises is so poor that a tenant may be able to terminate the lease without further obligation. In such cases, the tenant will have contacted a housing inspector who can issue a report that may force you to make the needed repairs. Such scenarios should be averted since you can be forced to make costly repairs and improvements that could have been avoided had you taken steps to ensure the unit was in good condition.
Also, do not undertake any self-eviction procedures such as shutting off utilities, locking out the tenant or removing all the tenant’s personal belongings without an eviction order or you may have to pay damages.
Although the law on Arkansas residential lease agreements favors landlords, it is always in your best interests to maintain a dwelling in good condition and in compliance with building and housing codes. Having responsible tenants who obey the law, pay the rent on time and have a good relationship with you is your best guarantee of receiving the most for you investment. If you have any questions or concerns about your lease or your responsibilities and rights, contact an Arkansas landlord/tenant attorney.