Representing a renter facing eviction and potential criminal penalties after losing their job due to COVID-19, the ACLU of Arkansas, the Bowen Legal Clinic, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s criminal eviction statute.

The lawsuit asserts that Arkansas’ criminal eviction law denies people their right to due process and violates both the state and federal constitutions. Arkansas is the only state in the country where tenants can face criminal conviction for failing to pay their rent on time. In every other state, evictions are treated as a civil matter. Arkansas is also one of only a handful of states that has not taken any action to prevent evictions amid COVID-19.

Under Arkansas law, the landlord of a tenant who is one day late on rent may order the tenant to vacate the premises within 10 days. If the tenant fails to do so, they are guilty of a separate misdemeanor offense for each day they fail to vacate the premises following the expiration of the 10-day notice and must pay a fine of up to $25 per day or offense. In 2012, Arkansas’ Non-Legislative Commission on the Study of Landlord-Tenant Laws recommended full repeal of the criminal eviction statute. 

Update: This case was dismissed.