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Bill Establishing Minimum Housing Standards For Renters In State Passes Senate

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Arkansas Senate
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A bill that sets minimum housing standards for landlords in Arkansas passed the Arkansas Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 28-1, with six senators voting present. Senate Bill 594 now advances to the House.

According to the legislation, for leases and rental agreements for residential purposes, all dwelling units or single-family residences at the time a tenant moves in should have certain basic living standards such as "available cold and hot water, an available source of electricity, a functioning roof" as well as other requirements.

Currently, Arkansas is the only state in the country without a state-established warrant of habitability for rental properties.

What the bill does not include is a way for tenants to seek remedy to any violation of these standards other than moving out. If a dwelling does not meet habitability standards, the legislation says a tenant may deliver a letter of non-compliance to the landlord. If the tenant is up-to-date on their rent, and a landlord does not remedy the situation within 30 days after receiving the notice, the tenant’s "sole remedy" is to terminate the lease without penalty and receive a refund of any recoverable security deposit.

Another bill that establishes greater habitability standards as well as a greater array of remedies for tenants passed a House committee earlier in the session, but has not been brought up for a vote by the full House.

In presenting the bill to the Senate, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, admitted neither advocates for tenants nor landlords are particularly excited about the bill, though no one was against it outright.

"We are putting something in state law that has never existed before, and that is quality standards for our occupants of residential properties. I don’t think this goes too far, and I feel like we’ve hit some good common ground here," Dismang said.  

In speaking on the bill, but neither for nor against it, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said she wished it did more, and of the need for habitability standards in Arkansas.

"There are people out there who treat renters as if they are, and it’s probably an overstatement to say, second class citizens. So as the senator indicted, this bill goes part of the way, but it has been 14 years and I keep wanting my state not to keep dragging up the rear. We’re the only state who does not have a warrant of habitability in place," Elliott said.

All Senate Democrats either voted present or no on the bill.

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