LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Eviction filings in Arkansas are increasing despite an order issued by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that's supposed to stop landlords from kicking out tenants.
Compared to August and September of 2019, eviction filings in Arkansas have doubled, according to court records. The top two counties with the most filings are Pulaski and Washington.
Thousands of Arkansans remain unemployed and some have exhausted or do not qualify for renter’s assistance. That, coupled with the pandemic, has resulted in an increase in eviction filings, according to retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor Lynn Foster.
“In August we were above July by about 40%, and in September we were above August by about 37%," she said. "And so there is a kind of steep climb in eviction filings that happening now."
“Their order does not prohibit a landlord fro filing an eviction, it just prohibits from actually physically being evicted until Jan. 1,” added Foster.
As Foster continues to keep a close eye on court cases, she fears tenants are still not aware they need to sign a CDC declaration.
“For most of the filings, the tenants never respond,” said Foster. “They don’t file a response with the court and if they haven’t done that, and they haven’t given their landlord a CDC declaration, then there would be nothing to stop that eviction process from going through.”
For tenants unaware of the CDC declaration, tenants must sign the declaration and submit it to their landlord.
“They have to had tried to get rental assistance or money to get caught up on rent, which is very important because through Congress and a couple of other places there is some new funding out there to help tenants get caught up on their rent,” said Kendall Lewellen, an attorney for the Center For Arkansas Legal Services.
Lewellen stressed that tenants must exhaust all options.
“They have to be in a situation where they can’t pay their rent, not just because of their own budgeting or other life circumstances, but because they have lost income – and it has to have been they either lost work, work hours or they have had very high medical expenses,” said Lewellen.
Part of the CDC declaration includes continuing efforts to pay rent, including making partial payments.
“If someone is served with a lawsuit, they need to respond and go to court or call their local legal aid office, do all of the things that they would normally do,” Lewellen added.
Some new renter’s assistance funding is now available, and more money is working its way down the pipeline. On Wednesday, the Arkansas Department of Human Services announced additional aid through a COVID-19 emergency solution grant with $23 million available for Arkansans. You can find your local office that will provide aid by clicking here.
This week, Arkansas lawmakers are set to give final approval for $4.24 million in renter’s assistance funding through the state’s newly created Arkansas Fresh Start program. Another $5.6 million will be contributed by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The Arkansas Fresh Start program will cover 2 1/2 months of rent. Funds go directly to landlords. Funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The state is expected to launch a website application process the first week of November.