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Can You Go to Jail for Failing to Pay Rent?

Arkansas is the only state in the country that still has a criminal eviction statute. The law, passed in 1901, permits landlords to file criminal complaints against tenants who have not paid their rent. If you are even one day late with your rent, the landlord can serve a notice on you demanding you vacate the house or apartment in 10 days. If you do not do so, the landlord may file a criminal complaint with the county court and you could face up to 90 days in jail plus fines.

Arkansas Criminal Law

The Arkansas criminal eviction law has been long criticized. Many consider it antiquated, akin to penalizing people for being poor. Critics also say the law has a disproportionate impact on minorities, particularly black women. Landlords, however, view it as cheaper and more efficient than a civil eviction action. And landlords have associations that speak for them with state legislators, several of whom are landlords themselves.

Where you can get into trouble as a tenant, and perhaps be placed in jail, is if you fail to appear in response to a hearing notice. An officer will serve the landlord’s complaint on you with a notice requiring that you appear in court. If you do not, the judge will typically issue a bench warrant and require that bail be posted to secure your release.

If you appear at the hearing, you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you must deposit with the court an amount equal to the unpaid rent claimed by the landlord. If you plead guilty or are convicted of this Class B misdemeanor, you face up to 90 days in jail. The court will also fine you $25 for each day you stayed in the house or apartment beyond the 10-day notice period.

There have been legal challenges to the criminal conviction statute. The Arkansas Supreme Court has issued two decisions upholding the law. The Arkansas ACLU and other legal services groups filed a challenge in federal court in June 2020 and the case is pending.

In the meantime, criminal eviction cases are still occurring, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although several county prosecutors have announced they will not prosecute those complaints, you need a Little Rock criminal defense lawyer if you are facing a criminal eviction complaint.

Contact our Little Rock criminal defense team today

James Law Firm represents clients in the Little Rock area and throughout Arkansas in a full range of criminal cases. To learn about your rights and legal options, please call to schedule a free consultation (501) 375-0900 or contact us online.

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