House Committee Approves Legislation Supporting Renters’ Rights

The bill’s sponsor says it will balance the rights between Arkansas tenants and landlords.

Sylvester Smith speaking in committee meeting
Attorney Sylvester Smith speaks against HB 1563 Mar. 17, 2021.

Arkansas is one step closer to joining 49 other states in having an implied warranty of habitability. The House Insurance and Commerce Committee approved an amended version of House Bill 1563 yesterday by a vote of 11-4. 

If it becomes law, HB 1563 would require landlords to meet minimum standards that ensure a residential rental property is fit for habitation. Under the legislation, that would include things like having working locks and a functioning smoke alarm. 

The bill garnered a lot of discussion when it was first presented in committee last week. Sponsor Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said he had several conversations with legislators and landlords after that committee meeting, and he used those discussions to inform amendments to his bill. 

For example, landlords with four or less properties are excluded from the newly amended bill. Language has also been added to ensure a landlord will not be held responsible if a tenant disables a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector. 

“I think that that gives us a fair and balanced bill, one that still has meaningful protections for tenants and brings the state of the law for tenants up to where it should be in 2021, but also balances the concerns that we’ve heard from landlords,” Gazaway said. 

Sylvester Smith is an attorney who represents landlords and he said although the new bill is better than the previous one, the timing is bad. The state is still in the middle of a pandemic and while tenants have been offered a lot of assistance, Smith said landlords have had very little.

“This bill at this time will be one more gallon of water dropped on these landlords that are already drowning,” he said.

Another man who spoke against the bill said more time was needed to look at the amended legislation. Caleb Alexander-McKinzie, Arkansans for Stronger Communities board member, said some tenants don’t have the luxury of time.

“When we were helping write this bill, I spoke with several parents whose children had died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. They don’t have more time,” he said.

The bill needed 11 votes to advance and committee chairman Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, cast the deciding vote. HB 1563 now heads to the full House. 

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.