The ACLU, Legal Aid of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen Law School Legal Clinic challenged a state law that makes it a crime to fail to pay rent to a landlord — the only law of its kind in the country. Tenants are charged with failure to pay rent based on the landlord’s word alone.
When law enforcement threatens tenants with jail time and fines, many are forced to leave. Tenants then face penalties if they cannot pay a fee for the amount of allegedly unpaid rent, whatever the reason, including illness, disrepair of the premises, or a mere dispute over the amount owed. In its challenge, the ACLU of Arkansas asserted the law violates constitutional bans on debtors’ prisons, denies tenants due process, including the right to a fair trial, and inflicts cruel and unusual punishment. In a system that presumes the defendant’s innocence, the lack of any due process in these evictions shows the law to be a relic of another age, when people who weren’t landowners truly had no rights.
Status: The case was dismissed on procedural grounds. The ACLU of Arkansas will continue to work to protect the rights of tenants' from enforcement of this unjust law. If you receive a notice to vacate that may lead to criminal charges, contact us ASAP at www.acluarkansas.org/get-help.