Renters’ rights bill tabled until Monday due to lengthy debate

by Marine Glisovic ([email protected]) 623 views 

A renters’ rights bill has been tabled to next week after the House Insurance & Commerce Committee on Wednesday (March 10) ran out of time to continue the debate.

Supporters of HB 1563 said it’s time that renters in Arkansas have basic habitable standards such as working plumbing. Those against the bill, mainly landlords, said they do not have enough protections against unruly tenants.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said he’s trying to strike a balance. He unsuccessfully ran a version of the bill in 2019, but it was opposed by the Arkansas Realtors Association and other groups.

While presenting the current bill in committee, Gazaway highlighted that Arkansas is the only state in the country without a minimum habitability standard laws on the books.

“It’s things like hot and cold running water, plumbing that works, electrical wiring that’s safe, smoke alarms,” said Gazaway.

His proposal also includes an easier eviction process to benefit landlords, including not having to pay or use an attorney.

“What we have heard from landlords more than any other thing…that they want a quick, easy, and cheap way to pursue evictions for tenants who don’t pay – or otherwise violating their lease agreement – and they would like to be able to do that through district court,” added Gazaway.

Landlords against the bill said they want more protections and don’t want to be responsible for matters such as installing smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors. The landlords who testified said while they already install such devices, they feared they would be legally liable if a tenant removed the battery from the detectors.

“This is really not a great time to be bringing this forward with a pandemic going on, there’s a lot of landlords that are not getting rent,” said Dan Pasmore, a landlord in Jonesboro.

Another landlord, Darrel Cook also of Jonesboro, was particularly worried about the requirement to provide pest control.

“When you have a tenant that leaves tuna fish lying around, steaks lying around, all kind of food lying around…you try and get rid of roaches,” said Cook.

Cook said he owns single-family homes in Jonesboro, not apartments. He explained to committee members that it would cost him “nearly a fortune” to provide professional pest control for each home.

Those supporting the bill consisted mainly of tenants who have struggled. One college student testified and told committee members she’s already low-income and had to spend $60 on a carbon monoxide detector because her landlord does not provide one.

On Wednesday, the committee ran out of time for further debate and decided to table the discussion until next Monday.

Gazaway said he is willing to amend parts of the bill if needed, but understands he will not be able to satisfy both sides on this issue.

“Just the very basic minimum things particularly those in regard to health and safety,” Gazaway said. “The requirement of smoke alarms – if there is a gas source – carbon monoxide detectors, safe wiring, plumbing that works, hot and cold water, locks on exterior doors, just the most basic things that one would imagine that with residential rental property that we should expect in 2021.”

The bill is expected to be heard again on Monday, March 15 under a special order of business, allowing for more time for debate.

Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is a senior political reporter for KATV and a contributor to Talk Business & Politics.