The Senate today approved SB 594 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, a modest improvement to the worst landlord-tenant law in the country.

It passed 28-1, with six, all Democrats, voting present.

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The bill would put a reference in the law to the condition of a rental dwelling, but would not go as far as a habitability bill approved in a House committee. That bill hasn’t come to a vote in the House because it doesn’t have the votes for passage.

The bill requires rental housing to have hot and cold running water, electricity, potable drinking water, a sewer system, a functioning roof and functioning heat and air to the extent it existed at the time of a rental agreement. But it provides no recourse for a tenant when these standards aren’t met. Dismang said the bill was nonetheless historic, with the first quality standards in Arkansas law. It doesn’t alter eviction law. Arkansas would remain the only state with a criminal eviction law.

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I went to Lynn Foster, the retired law professor and president of Arkansans for Stronger Communities, for an assessment. She responded:

It’s not an implied warranty, because the landlord won’t have to make repairs. A tenant’s only remedy is to move out. And there’s no anti-retaliation provision.

However, on the Senate floor Sen. Dismang stated that the bill will not limit tenants’ rights under constructive eviction. So it won’t actively harm tenants.

 

Also, he stated that the bill will remove the pre-hearing deposit requirement in unlawful detainer cases. Eliminating this arguably unconstitutional requirement is a very positive step that will benefit tenants. HB1563, the bill Rep. Gazaway kindly sponsored for Arkansans for Stronger Communities, did not contain this provision.

 

Perhaps most importantly, Sen. Dismang stated that this framework for an implied warranty can be used as a structure on which to pass more meaningful amendments next session. We’ll see, and we hope so.

Sen. Joyce Elliott, the Little Rock Democrat, thanked Dismang for going “this far.” But she said it will be up to the rest to do more at another time.

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