Bill Establishing Warranty of Habitability Stalls In Committee

Mar 18, 2019

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee listens to the changes Rep. Jimmy Gazaway made to his bill.
Credit Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

A bill that establishes a statewide warranty of habitability for residential rental properties in Arkansas has stalled in a House committee. 

The House Insurance and Commerce committee failed to pass the bill by a slim margin on Monday, coming up one vote short of the 11 needed to pass. Currently, Arkansas is the only state in the country without an implied warranty of habitability.

A previous version of the bill set up to create standards of habitability that do not interfere with the "health and safety" of the tenant. However, the legislation went under several changes in an amended version.

Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, the bill’s sponsor, said he made all of the changes the Arkansas Realtors Association wanted “basically word for word.” Due to the changes, Gazaway says the Realtors Association’s position on the bill has shifted.

"My understanding is that the Realtors Association is no longer opposing this bill. That’s certainly not to say that they are supporting this bill, but my understanding is that they’ve withdrawn their opposition to the bill," Gazaway said.

Under the amended legislation, all mentions of health and safety are removed, and instead the renter must provide properties that are fit "for the use consistent with the rental agreement." 

According to Gazaway, the bill also no longer requires property owners to install smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. However, under the legislation, tenants can install their own smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, if they are installed professionally.

The amended legislation makes multiple other changes to the original bill. Gazaway said he tried to listen to everyone’s input on the bill when amending it.

"I did what I felt like I could to get input from all of the interested stakeholders. I don’t think this is something that makes everybody happy. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make a lot of people happy, but sometimes that means you have good legislation," Gazaway said.

Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, told KUAR he does believe the bill does less for tenants than the previous version did. However, Blake says the legislation is a start to protecting tenants better than before.

“If you look at the amendment, we did add some language. It may not say “safety,” but it added some language that defined somewhat of a safe home and safe living conditions,” Blake said. 

The committee plans to re-vote on the bill Wednesday, March 27.  Since several lawmakers were absent during the meeting, legislators who are in support of the bill believe they will have the votes necessary to pass it then.