An effort to ensure habitability

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 126 views 

One of the things I learned in law school is Arkansas is unique in that it is unusual in that there is no express or implied warranty of habitability.

A warranty of habitability, of course, means that a landlord must maintain a dwelling so people can live in them. It is well worth mentioning that most landlords in this state make sure they provide habitable homes, but the Landlords Association of Arkansas says there are a few who let their properties fall into disrepair.

The solution? The Landlords Association is backing House Bill 1486 – a bill that was filed on Feb. 26. According to a news release from the Landlords Association, that bill was drafted by advocates for landlords and tenants in an attempt to come up with “common sense” legislation that will establish a clear warranty of habitability. That’s a nine page bill and I will hit some of the high points, but you can read the entire bill at this link.

In essence, the bill requires landlords to do things such as provide safe structures with roofs that don’t leak, locking entry doors, warm water and other amenities that most people probably assume comes standard in a dwelling. And, landlords who receive requests from tenants to make repairs under the law will not be allowed to raise rent, evict tenants or take other retaliatory measures.

Here’s something in the law that might come as good news to attorneys handling civil evictions. Tenants cannot use a landlord’s failure to make repairs as an excuse not to pay rent. If a tenant does not pay rent, then all bets are off and the landlord can proceed with eviction. But, what if the landlord does not make repair as required under the statute? The tenant can go through the courts for relief and, in some cases, can ask that the lease be terminated.

HB 1486, then, is an attempt to make sure that landlords maintain dwellings to they are up to code and are habitable. Tenants are given some ways to make sure that landlords are held to the law, too. Is HB 1486 the “common sense” law that the Landlords Association claims it is? Does it require too much of landlords? All of those questions – and more – will be raised and debated in the days and weeks to come.

Still, it is noteworthy that the lack of a warranty of habitability is being addressed by landlords and tenants’ advocates alike. That might seem mundane on the surface, but it is pretty remarkable given how Arkansas lawmakers have managed to avoid putting such a warranty in place in the past.