Ending ‘Debtors Prisons’ for Arkansas Renters

Arkansas has been called the worst place to rent in America. This article dives into the controversial failure-to-vacate statute that criminalizes being late on rent.

Blog Post (Arkansas)

Amy Johnson
June 5, 2015
Full story

Tags: Benefits of Legal Aid, Housing: Homelessness, Housing: Landlord-Tenant

Organizations mentioned/involved: Arkansas Access to Justice Commission (AATJ), Center for Arkansas Legal Services (CALS) (Little Rock)


As a civil legal aid advocate for people living in poverty in Arkansas, I’ve seen firsthand how this policy represents the criminalization of poverty at its worst. For example, one couple was charged under the law when they fell behind on their $585 monthly rent payment and didn’t move out quickly enough. Another woman was sentenced to probation even though she had been in the hospital after suffering a stroke when she was served an eviction notice.


Thankfully, civil legal aid advocates have seen some recent success in the effort to end this terrible policy . Artoria Smith recently found herself in an eviction dispute over back rent. She was late on her rent after the landlord demanded she pay an additional $300 to cover the cost of repairing her floor. The floor was damaged because Ms. Smith had fallen through after it rotted out.

Her story could have ended like most do: with a move, a conviction, and a fine. However, she was fortunate enough to qualify for civil legal aid at the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, one of Arkansas’s two nonprofit legal aid organizations.