Imagine seeing an apartment ad that reads: “Two bedroom, one bath. Habitable.”
That wouldn’t draw me to an apartment whatsoever. A habitable living space is the ultimate bare minimum I am looking for. I want to be comfortable and secure. Saying it is merely habitable is the undersell of the century.
Except, in Arkansas, landlords do not even have to provide habitability. Despite every other state guaranteeing some degree of livability, a property in Arkansas does not have any such minimum requirement.
A third of Arkansans are renters, so residents should be rejoicing about Rep. Jimmy Gazaway’s House Bill 1410, a tenant-habitability bill which would finally even the playing field between Arkansas and other states.
As it stands, a landlord can knowingly rent someone an unsafe space as long as there is nothing in the lease that says otherwise and as long as the dwelling is up to city code. For rural dwellers, there is practically no protection at all. This is not an example of the free market doing its job, but simply a con-men finding loopholes. The bare minimum of protection should be that one’s home should be habitable.
In addition, Arkansas is the only state with criminal penalties for failure to pay rent immediately. Not only can renters be charged with a crime, but they must vacate their house within ten days with no exceptions. There is no jury or judge in this process, only a landlord who exclusively profits off a renter’s existence on their property. Renters should not be expected to keep up with all of an apartment’s maintenance and still be expected to make their rent every month.
Children like Aiden Williams, whose mother in 2018 accidentally rented a Little Rock apartment with black mold creeping up the walls, are the ones who are losing out. At only one year old, Williams developed asthma because of the black mold caused by unaddressed water damage in the apartment.
This story isn’t exclusive to Aiden either. A 2018 UAMS study found that people receiving medical care for respiratory problems are three times more likely to live a residence with a previous mold-citations.
Imagine if Arkansas legislature vouched for renter protections any of the six times this bill was proposed in the past. The passing of this bill could prevent situations like Aiden’s in the future and help pay reparations to those who’ve already been failed by our legislators. Basic protection like a simple warrant of habitability could prevent similar incidents, and all the legislature needs to do is vote for House Bill 1410.
It doesn’t seem right to allow the most disadvantaged among us to suffer so landlords can profit. It only makes sense that poor renters cannot afford to fix their apartments when they are struggling to make enough for their food and utilities as it is. Non-English speaking people and those who lack the education to fully read and understand their leases are also at a particular disadvantage.
However, House Bill 1410 represents a beacon of hope for the state’s renter communities. It comes in the form of a bipartisan compromise that Uniform Law Commission recommends. In a city like Fayetteville where 40 percent of residents are renters, it is past time to start advocating for this bill because it is clear it will not get anywhere without grassroots support.
State Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R) is an Arkansan property manager who has spoken out against similar bills in the past. The Arkansas Realtors Association gave $6 million to political campaigns between 2009 and 2017, and its members seem to be the loudest advocates against this bill.
This sort of corporate influence is usually hard to overcome, but not all politicians are so ensnared by their own interests. This could be the year in which our the Arkansas state government concludes that no person deserves to live in inhabitable conditions. All the legislature has to do is prioritize the voices of their renter constituents over those of wealthy landlords.