Unfortunately, a tenant’s failure to pay rent is a problem every real estate investor will likely encounter over the course of his or her career. For this reason, familiarity with Arkansas eviction laws is critical. An investor’s expenses do not stop merely because a tenant stops paying rent. Consequently, moving quickly to remove a tenant unwilling or unable to pay is an important—though regrettable—part of owning investment property. (Except, perhaps, if you focus exclusively on short-term rentals, like Airbnb properties.) Investors without a thorough knowledge of Arkansas eviction laws and the eviction process subject themselves to significant economical and legal risks.
According to Arkansas eviction laws, a tenant who shall “willfully and without right” refuse to pay rent and refuse to vacate the premises upon the landlord’s providing a three day written notice to vacate is guilty of unlawful detainer. (A landlord must provide a fourteen day notice if the reason for the eviction is a failure to comply with other lease terms, such as by having pets where the lease forbids it.
The tenant has the opportunity during this time to fix the problem.) Many tenants will move out voluntarily once the landlord demands possession, particularly where the tenant has not paid rent due. Often, however, a tenant will refuse to leave, making an understanding of the eviction process in Arkansas critical.
If after three days notice the tenant fails to move, the landlord may file a complaint against the tenant in court. There is a filing fee associated with this that can vary from county to county. In Benton and Washington counties, for example, the filing fee to begin the eviction process in court is $165. The complaint must also be served upon the tenant, which generally requires the utilization of a process server at an additional fee that is typically around $50.
Arkansas laws governing evictions state that the tenant then has five days to file a written answer with the court. If the tenant wishes to dispute the landlord’s claims in court and wants to remain in the property, he or she must at the time of filing the answer deposit with the court enough money to cover the amount of rent due on the property and must continue to pay rent into the court registry during the course of the proceedings. The time required by the eviction process in Arkansas is heavily dependent on the tenant’s response to the complaint served upon him or her.
If the tenant fails to answer, pay the required rent, or both, the court may issue a writ of possession, which the sheriff will then serve upon the tenant. If the tenant fails to vacate the premises within twenty-four hours, the sheriff will forcibly remove the tenant. At that point, the landlord will again have possession of the property and may be satisfied. The process of eviction, however, is a two-step process. The process just described is the preliminary determination of the right to possession. The question of damages is left for a subsequent court hearing.
If the landlord desires, he or she may continue with the eviction process and secure a judgment for the back rent or any other damages from the tenant. A landlord’s Arkansas eviction rights include the right to obtain any money owed by the tenant. The old cliché, “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip,” however, is often applicable to these types of circumstances, and a judgment successfully obtained against a broke tenant may be very difficult to enforce. After all, a tenant that could afford to pay the rent probably would have. Individual circumstances may vary, however, and this route is available to those landlords who believe it to be worth the additional legal costs.
Landlords should keep in mind, however, that a tenant has the right to dispute a claim of unlawful detainer as part of the eviction process in Arkansas. Arkansas eviction laws, while generally very favorable to landlords, still seek to maintain a tenant’s due process rights. Tenant disputes may not often be a serious issue where a tenant simply does not pay rent, but occasionally a tenant will contest the landlord’s claims and may even level his or her own unique counterclaims against the landlord.
If the landlord is able to secure a writ of possession, for example, but then final court findings are for the tenant, the landlord will have to compensate the tenant for any damages the tenant suffered as a result of being wrongfully dispossessed of the property. This serves as a hedge against abuses by unscrupulous landlords, preventing them from seeking the eviction of a tenant without just cause. As failure to pay rent is usually the reason for eviction proceedings and is often a black and white issue, however, a successful claim against a landlord in a wrongful detainer action is relatively uncommon.
Arkansas Eviction Laws
This post describes the civil method of eviction in Arkansas. There is also a criminal method of eviction known as failure to vacate that I will discuss in a future post. Arkansas is a very landlord friendly state relative, and the legislature has provided a variety of protections to landlords to ensure tenants pay their rent. Landlords must, however, follow the law precisely. It is therefore important that both landlords and tenants have at least a basic understanding of Arkansas eviction laws.