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Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay Rent: Overcrowding in Prisons

Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay their Rent!

Why do we have so many inmates in the United States compared to every other country. Do Americans commit more crimes than citizens of other countries? Our prisons are overcrowded because of too many laws and their harsh application. Finally, leaders like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey are now aware that drug addicts belong in drug programs instead of prisons. Our prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent inmates. There are laws that defy logic and basic decency! What can we say about tenants who are imprisoned for nonpayment of rent. The following article described the United States rush to incarcerate.

By Brett Wilkins – Digital Journal

Little Rock – Hundreds of tenants who are unable to pay their rent are jailed each year under Arkansas’ draconian ‘failure-to-vacate’ law.

According to “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’ Criminal Evictions Law,” a new 44-page report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), hundreds of tenants face criminal charges each year for not paying their rent on time or for failing to vacate their rented homes quickly enough. HRW claims that Arkansas’ law “has no parallel in any other US state.” In addition to criminally charging tenants who do not pay their rent or vacate on time, the report alleges people who didn’t even violate the “Failure-to-Vacate law were charged due to prosecutors acting on landlords’ “specious claims.”

Some tenants were arrested at home or at work; one woman was lambasted by a district judge in open court who compared her to a “bank robber.” “The Arkansas ‘failure-to-vacate’ law is unjust and tramples on the fundamental rights of tenants,” HRW senior researcher Chris Albin-Lackey wrote in the report. “It also criminalizes severe economic hardships many tenants are already struggling to overcome.” State law stipulates that any tenant who does not pay their rent in full and on time can be evicted. Landlords can demand that they vacate the property within 10 days, and tenants who fail to do so are guilty of a misdemeanor. Tenants who attempt to argue their side of the story in court risk being jailed for violating the law, resulting in a criminal record.

Convictions can also cause unintended negative consequences that go far beyond the issue at hand. For example, a single parent charged with ‘failure-to-vacate’ who cannot post bond and is jailed risks child neglect charges and placement of their children in the custody of Social Services. Additionally, tenants charged with ‘failure-to-vacate’ can be fined $25 per day for each day between the expiration date on the 10 day notice and the date of trial. Tenants who retain possession of the rental property while awaiting trial could also face an additional $25/day fine.

These costs can be devastating for tenants who are already facing dire financial straits, as evidenced by their initial failure to pay their rent in full and on time. State law strongly discourages accused tenants from pleading not guilty. Those who do must pay the court a deposit equaling the total amount of rent they allegedly owe. This deposit is forfeited if the defendant is found guilty. Those who cannot afford such a deposit but plead not guilty anyway face jail terms of up to 90 days and more expensive fines. Those who plead guilty face none of these potential consequences.

“The failure to vacate law effectively coerces tenants into either quietly moving or pleading guilty instead of exercising their right to defend against a criminal charge and having their day in court,” Albin-Lackey wrote. “Disturbingly, it does so by turning prosecutors into landlords’ personal attorneys– at taxpayer expense.” ‘Failure-to-vacate’ charges were brought against more than 1,200 Arkansas tenants in 2012 alone. The HRW report contains interviews with some of them. One woman had an arrest warrant issued against her just three days after she was ordered to move out. Another was reportedly charged based on a false claim by a landlord from whom she’d actually purchased her home and paid it off in full. The current situation, in which Arkansas is the only state in the nation to criminalize failure to pay rent, could soon be changing. The Non-Legislative Commission on the Study of Landlord-Tenant Laws, established in 2011, has just released a report listing 15 recommended changes to landlord-tenant laws in the state.

“The laws in Arkansas are unbalanced,” said Stephen Giles, an attorney appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, to chair the commission. “I would say mostly in favor of landlords and less promoting of tenants,” Giles told KTHV. Giles said one of the proposed amendments to eviction law would “repeal the criminal eviction statute that exists in Arkansas.” “Legally right now tenants can be found guilty of a crime for not paying their rent and for not getting out when the landlord tells them to,” Giles told KTHV. “We just think that’s not fair at all and that this should be a civil process.”

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25 Responses to Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay their Rent!

  1. PrisonPath February 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    How stupid can we all be? I am a landlord, myself. I know how frustrating it is to get scammed by tenants–for months and months. But I take them to court, and ask the judge to help me get my money. Didn’t the Pilgrims leave England, in part, to change how citizens are imprisoned? And haven’t we reverted?
    By terri

  2. PrisonPath March 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Would anyone advocate that people in financial hardship should be able to steal food from the supermarket. By not paying rent, a tenant is stealing from the landlord.
    By Glen

  3. PrisonPath March 7, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    In my opinion, the two things are not analogous and the comparison is absurd. Arkansas is the only US state where a tenant can go to jail as a consequence of failing to pay their rent on time. Furthermore, the law does not speak to actions of landlords at all. There may be valid reasons for not paying rent and those reasons (valid or not) should be dealt with in CIVIL COURT as they are in EVERY OTHER STATE. The law effectively transforms public prosecutors into landlords’ personal attorneys. We got rid of debtors prisons long ago and the reality is that this law effectively brings it back, if only for one state. I also don’t see how this helps landlords get the monies due to them. Criminalizing the working poor and tacking on additional fines, fees, etc. all but assures landlords don’t get what is due to them. Lastly, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. Surely, Arkansas can find a solution that doesn’t contribute to this problem. See also http://www.hrw.org/node/113159/section/6 .
    By Stephanie

  4. PrisonPath March 7, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    This doesn’t criminalize the working poor. Many working poor pay their rent and/or move out of a residence when required by the OWNER of the property. This criminalizes those who refuse to do what they are legally required to do. It doesn’t differentiate. The law applies equally to the poor, middle class and rich. I guess we shouldn’t send people to prison for not paying their taxes either.
    By Glen

  5. PrisonPath March 8, 2014 at 3:25 am #

    We are on the fast track to being a nation with debtor’s prison like our mother country had. By Daniel

  6. PrisonPath March 8, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    At least he now has free housing 🙂
    By Michael

  7. PrisonPath March 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    This is a travesty and a prime example of why we need a wake-up call as a society. These people need some help getting stable, not to be thrown in jail. Arkansas government should be ashamed for allowing this to happen. What a waste of government resources.
    By Nancy

  8. PrisonPath March 8, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    The other side of the coin is something I am experiencing now. We house ex-offenders, help them get a job, even take them to and from work. Since we do everything for them, there is a program agreement that allows us to evict them if they decide to get back on drugs and not pay the program fee. We helped a man with a wife and six kids. He decided to use drugs and refuse to work. After several warnings and two months in violation, we tried to get them out. The local police refused to help even after we got a court order, which we should not have had to do. If we can’t get cooperation from law enforcement, we may have to stop helping anyone who don’t money for a deposit,etc. It’s also possible the other clients will take things into their own hands and someone could get hurt. His kids have very little chance staying out of prison as they get older. He has them stuffing things down the drain pipes now. A regular business would have problems staying in business, let alone a non-profit.
    By David

  9. PrisonPath March 8, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    “La majestueuse Ă©galitĂ© des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.” Anotole France. Translation: “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”
    By Lawyer Chuck

  10. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Davic I have a question: why evict the whole family? Who not just him?
    By Martine Herzog-Evans

  11. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay Rent !

    Meant ‘Why’ not ‘who’ of course

    Behind this issue however, there is a larger one. In England at the moment there’s this huge debate about benefits. The current government, eager to save money (economic crisis) is cutting very hard on the very generous benefit system that existed up ’till now. I live in France and can compare the two systems. Say you’re a drug addict or an alcoholic with or without a mental health issue, and have lost everything (with in some cases a few sojourns in prison). Benefits in England would cover your housing (paid directly to the landlord) and enough for you to eat plus health coverage of course. Indeed, you might choose to drink your food money. But at least you’re indoors.
    In France you would have a given amount of money (about 400 euros/month) from which you would have to choose either to find housing (unlikely though as in this country landlords and housing companies ask for documented proof of at least three months employment plus wages three to four times the amount of the rent) or to eat. So you’re on the street anyways but with a bit of cash.
    Until now the difference was visible: a very small number of actual homeless (as in permanently on the street) in English cities; tons of homeless in French cities.
    So the positive side to this is quite obvious.
    Yet the downside is as well and makes people in a time of crisis cringe, because they struggle. People like the one you are describing still take drugs, because why wouldn’t they? They are kept warm and relatively safe with a roof over their heads. They don’t try and find a job because why would they? (not saying it’s an easy task in a crime of crisis; this issue is hugely complicated). Mind you, the French addict won’t find a job either because he cannot even take a shower, hardly ever sleeps, and has no address where mail might be forwarded to him. Once you’re on the street, as everyone knows, it’s terribly hard to get out of it.
    So I still think England is – or rather was because all this is changing with the cuts – in the right. Some people have addictions, mental health issues, no education or qualification and will struggle monumentally to fit in our society and it would take a mountain of social and health intervention to take each one of them out of where they are, and still they would only half fit.
    It is a very costly system indeed which generously decides to keep them off the street and feed them and one can understand that when times become hard, it is exasperating to the extreme for those who work very hard for low wages to see that people who, they imagine, choose to do nothing (some actually do, but that’s another type of people) or so it seems, and get about the same minimal comfort as they do and this, on their taxes.
    By Martine Herzog-Evans

  12. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    Martine,

    A very good question. Our ministry is 95% funded by the program fees of the clients. We receive no state or federal money, and obviously proven we can solve homelessness for those who want to work or are unable to work. There are other mission programs in this city for those who don’t want to work, would rather use drugs, or some reason I can’t immediately think of. We have seven or eight who are trying to get disability or SSI. We have a large number on SSI or disability, with a very limited budget. We house around 200 or so.

    In this case, the wife has as bad an attitude as the loser she is living with. And the mother is there too. They may be getting money from the state, but offer nothing. A few more like them and we would have to close. There are some people we have discovered we cannot help.
    Our website is HUM.ORG. Glad to answer questions.
    By David

  13. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    David what city are you in?
    By Javan

  14. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    So much for the myth that we do not have debtor’s prisons. This is but one example. It is easy to judge the actions of others, much like being an arm chair quarterback or a critical boxing fan.
    By David, PhD

  15. PrisonPath March 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    What about the ex-offender coming out of the prison system with the mentality that society put him away so society support me their way?
    By Ricardo

  16. PrisonPath March 10, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    Would I say what a coincidence? We are also running a halfway Home where inmates gather themselves before going to the society. Our home was also a rented apartment. Recently we have been ejecting from the home but with pleading for the end of this month. That can never happen in Nigeria, sending tenant especially the ex inmate to jail. The governor pass the law that favor the tenants in Nigeria. You need to work it out there. I have four inmates in the home right now without hope of where to send them to, one of them has no father nor mother. We do home tracing before we accept any inmate home. We don’t charge them for any fee. Over 200inmates irrespective of religion have benefited from the home. What put me off from this work was the demand attach to it. You have to beg people for their feeding and empowerment and there is a little response from the people.
    My recent research shows that seven out of ten are tenant before imprisonment. Any inmate who have spent over one year may likely loose their housing during the imprisonment and as a result they become homeless after the prison.
    We have seen another property but we are trusting God for the rent before the end of this month. By Hezekia

  17. David March 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    We developed the self support system to cull out the free-loaders and those who don’t want to be productive citizens. We’ve helped over 4000. Most really appreciate the hand up.

  18. David March 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    We are in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the state that leads the way in incarcerating people with no plan to reintegrate them back to society. Prison is big bucks here.

  19. Hezekiah March 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Would I say what a coincidence? We are also running a halfway Home where inmates gather themselves before going to the society. Our home was also a rented apartment. Recently we have been ejecting from the home but with pleading for the end of this month. That can never happen in Nigeria, sending tenant especially the ex inmate to jail. The governor pass the law that favor the tenants in Nigeria. You need to work it out there. I have four inmates in the home right now without hope of where to send them to, one of them has no father nor mother. We do home tracing before we accept any inmate home. We don’t charge them for any fee. Over 200inmates irrespective of religion have benefited from the home. What put me off from this work was the demand attach to it. You have to beg people for their feeding and empowerment and there is a little response from the people.
    My recent research shows that seven out of ten are tenant before imprisonment. Any inmate who have spent over one year may likely loose their housing during the imprisonment and as a result they become homeless after the prison.
    We have seen another property but we are trusting God for the rent before the end of this month

  20. PrisonPath March 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Well folks…you are all absolutely doing a great job out there. It never has been easy working with individuals with intractable social issues and providing them with the wrap around services that they need especially when you do not have solid supporting resources from the state and / or the feds. However, it is very rewarding extending help to these target populations, the underserved, ex- offenders’ men & women around the nation. Prison has been “big buck” everywhere already now, unfortunately, rehabilitating / reintegration has been far less of interest to the system.

  21. SABRINA March 14, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    THAT IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING I HAVE EVER HEARD. WHAT HAPPEN TO THE RIGHTS OF TENANTS? WHAT HAPPEN TO DUE PROCESS? THESE MATTERS SHOULD HAVE REACHED THE SUPREME COURT. I WOULD BE A LANDLORDS, A PROSECUTOR AND A DISTRICT JUDGE’S WORST NIGHTMARE. WHEN YOU ALLOW FOOLISHNESS, IT WILL ONLY GROW; IF YOU NIP FOOLISHNESS IN THE BUD, IT WILL NOT EXIST. I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT COMMUNITIES ARE TARGETED THE MOST!

    AMERICA THE GREAT….THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY….(BEST OPPORTUNITY TO BE THE PROUD RECIPIENT OF A CRIMINAL RECORD)…..SO SAD!

  22. PrisonPath March 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    The crux of the matter with any client that is coming out of prison is that there simply is not available housing that is affordable for someone with an “ex-offender” past. We have situations in Birmingham, AL that either the official recovery houses that our Parole Board will allow ex-offenders to reside in are little more than for profit “rental” houses whereas the interests lie in making sure the person pays the rent but offers little in support of viable employment services for ex-offenders or they are fly-by-night operations that offer no rehabilitation programs or recovery programs at all. We have a tremendous issue with ex-offenders who have sexual misconduct to rape and make parole but cannot be released because we have no programs in the State of Alabama that currently house sex offenders. The nearest one we have is Atlanta, GA and then we have to conduct an interstate compact which is usually denied.

    Apartment complexes ask about felonies on their applications and the ones who will accept felonies, you can count on one hand and most of these are located in the outermost parts of our county where our bus transit system doesnt travel. It is a Catch 22 situation.
    By Pamela

  23. PrisonPath March 16, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Well said, Pam. The politicians have created a monster problem that can’t be fixed without exposure of what they have created. Their only interest is votes and damage control. I house and reintegrate about 200 here in OKC. You try to help enough to make a difference and they will try to put you in prison. There’s too much big money in the prison business, and whether we like it or not, our politicians are bought by groups with money that can get them elected. As long as someone is a fly-by-night operation, they’ll have no problem. Anything bigger becomes a threat.
    There’s only one answer I know of. The church was God’s plan for helping people. It’s been turned over to government. Until the church becomes the church, it will remain a mess. Right now the church is as political as the politicians. The politicians have told me they do whatever the church wants. I’ve had church leaders come to our office and tell us to keep our men away from their property. Others tell me it will raise their insurance if they help these people. That is true. So I suppose these people are not worth anything. Since a majority of the sex offenders are severely mentally ill, the politicians know no one cares. At some point, it is a possibility that getting rid of these people may be looked at as the best solution for society. We’re going down a slippery slope.
    By David

  24. PrisonPath April 30, 2014 at 2:46 am #

    Prisons should be for violent offenders.
    By Helen

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Debtor's Prisons - PrisonPath Visitor Information & Inmate Locator- PrisonPath - April 5, 2013

    […] thrive in the United States. On February 3, 2013, Prisonpath posted an article about “Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay their Rent”. Many readers were shocked at such treatment of  Arkansas tenants  in the 21st century. There are […]

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