A bill to strengthen the rights of tenants drew lengthy debate but was ultimately pulled for more discussion after opposition from the Realtors Association. HB1410 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway would mandate minimum habitability standards for rental properties. These include having access to water, electricity, working smoke detectors, and locks on doors and windows. Arkansas is the only state without warranty of habitability standards for rental properties.
Gazaway stated that he was trying to strike a fair balance between the rights of landlords and tenants but does not believe that balance is currently fair for tenants. Professor Lynn Foster of the UALR Bowen Law School provided expert testimony in explaining the bill. She explained what drew the most discussion from legislators – how landlords must respond to making repairs requested of tenants.
Under the legislation a tenant can request in writing that repairs to the rental property if it is materially affecting their health and safety. The repairs must be completed in fourteen days unless an undue hardship prevented the repair. However, the only way a landlord could prove an undue hardship is to go to court. Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D – West Memphis) was concerned this could cost landlords thousands of dollars and delay rental payments. Repairs are not required to be covered by landlords if the tenant’s actions were the reason for the repair.
Rep. Reginald Murdock (D – Marianna) was concerned that added regulation would increase costs for renters and provide less opportunities for affordable housing. An attorney representing the Realtors Association spoke at length in opposition to the bill.
Other tenants’ rights activists including an economist, pediatrician, public health student, and rental property owners testified in favor of the legislation. The Arkansas Professional Firefighters Association spoke in favor of the legislation stating that a safe living environment provides a safer work environment for firefighters.
Corey Cox of the Arkansas Attorney Generals office said they get on average a call every day about issues renters have with landlords and rental property. He urged the committee to come up with some type of solution and comprise to address those concerns.
After appearing likely to fail, Gazaway stated he would pull the bill to work more with the realtors association to get to a comprise that everyone could get on board with. Gazaway has already met with them for several hours and provided over 13 amendments to the bill. According to Gazaway almost 1 million people in Arkansas are renters.