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These are stories pertaining to the Legislative Session for Arkansas

Arkansas House Committee Advances Bill Establishing Minimum Housing Standards

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Arkansas House
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KUAR
Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway, presents Senate Bill 594 to the House Insurance and Commerce Committee

A bill that establishes statewide minimum housing standards for rented properties in Arkansas is one vote away from going to the governor’s desk.

By a voice vote, with no dissenting votes heard, the House Insurance and Commerce committee advanced Senate Bill 594 to the House on Monday. The bill amends the Arkansas Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 2007 to include a set of minimum housing standards such as having a "available" source of electricity and a source of "potable" drinking water.

However, a tenant’s sole remedy under the legislation is the ability to move out of a rental property without penalty if a landlord does not fix a violation of these standards within 30 days of receiving a written notice of the issue. This remedy is also only available to tenants who are up to date on their rent.

In presenting the bill to the committee, Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway, called the legislation an opportunity to protect tenants in the state.

"What this bill does, is that it gives the tenants the ability to have some warrant of habitability and they also have the opportunity to leave a lease without penalty, without worry of repercussion from their landlord," Hawks said.

Currently, Arkansas is the only state in the country without a statewide implied warranty of habitability in its code. An earlier bill, which had greater support from tenant-advocates, but less from landlords, passed the same House committee a month ago, but has since stalled.

In speaking to the committee, Lynn Foster, president of Arkansans for Stronger Communities, which advocates for tenants' rights, said this bill does not create a warranty of habitability for Arkansas. However, because the bill was amended to include some of their suggestions, Foster said the organization was now neutral on the bill instead of opposed to it.

"We’ve heard many people say that this is the first step and one of the reasons for our neutrality is that we’re agreeing that this is a first step. And we expect that there will be more steps and that we will be included in the making of those steps." Foster said.

In closing for the bill, Hawks echoed Foster’s comments and said the legislation is a start and that he expects conversations concerning habitability in the state to continue.

Before the vote, Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, said this bill in her opinion, does not establish a warranty of habitability in the state, but that it was a step in the right direction.

"I think that this will help people. This will not hurt people; this will help people. I will be a yes on this bill, but I would just plead with my colleagues that we not let the conversation end here, that we do not consider our job ‘done,’ that habitability is now checked off," Clowney said.

The bill now goes to the House, where if passed, it will go to the governor.