For Rent sign
As Arkansas renters navigate the aftermath of a global pandemic, lawmakers cave to special interest groups.

Safe, habitable, affordable housing is the right of every Arkansan, but we’re constantly coming in last for protections for renters. The debate for habitability standards has been long and hard fought, and the 2021 General Session was no different.

Two bills were filed in hopes of establishing minimum habitability standards. HB 1563 was the first, but after passing out of committee, Rep. Gazaway decided not to run the bill on the floor due to lack of support. The second bill, SB 594, stripped most of the protections and requirements from HB 1563 but managed to pass both chambers. It has since been singed into law and is Act 1052.

HB 1563 vs. SB 594

Key differences between HB 1563 and SB 594, which has been signed into law.

As you can see, HB 1563 wins overall for renters. While both establish habitability standards, HB 1563 is more specific and lists seven different standards for safe housing. SB 594 only lists five. So what happened? Special interest and landlord lawmakers.

“I don’t like the bill, I don’t think that’s a secret,” Robin Lundstrum, Representative and landlord, said during committee on HB 1563. She also claimed later that requiring smoke and carbon monoxide detecters was too overreaching, calling it a “fallacy” in the bill. Clearly, the health and safety of her renters wasn’t her priority.

Another opponent of the bill, Rep. Carol Brown, claimed that the legislation was pointless, saying Little Rock was the only place in the state that experiences the issues outlined in HB 1563. Is this just a wildly gross lie, or is Rep. Brown just that oblivious to everyday Arkansans?

Concerns for Renters and SB 594

Best and Worst States to be a Renter
States with the worst and best tenant laws. Arkansas comes in last.

SB 594 came about after it was clear HB 1563 wasn’t going to pass. Sen. Johnathan Dismang, sponsor of SB 594, said that even though it didn’t incorporate all aspects of Gazaway’s legislation, it was the only option to get habitability standards on the books in Arkansas.

Over the years that we’ve tried this time, and time, and time again, what is it that holds us back?

Sen. Joyce Elliott asks during a committee hearing on SB 594

Sen. Joyce Elliott raised concerns about the new bill, particularly how long Arkansas renters will have to wait for better tenant laws. Habitability standards affect everyone, and SB 594 only addresses some of the many issues Arkansans are facing.

What does SB 594 mean for renters?

Sen. Dismang presenting SB 594
Sen. Johnathan Dismang presenting SB 594 on the senate floor.

SB 594, now Act 1052, will become law very soon. Although it’s not perfect, it still establishes some standards. Here are the basic standards renters can expect:

  • Running hot, cold, and drinking water
  • Working electricity
  • Functioning roof
  • Sanitary sewer system
  • Functioning heating and air conditioning system

Next Steps in the Fight for AR Renters

Woman holding sign saying "housing is a human right"
The fight for fair, affordable housing is far from over.

Now that we have a few basic habitability standards in law, do we stop pushing for more protections for tenants? Absolutely not. While speaking on SB 594, Sen. Elliott ended her statements with a simple call to action that needs to be reiterated.

“Let’s not take another 14 years. Let’s at least commit to when you come back in the next session to go the other two steps of the way.”

Every Arkansans has the right to a safe and habitable place to call home. So let’s not waste any more time. In 2022 we have an opportunity to elect new leaders, and in 2023 we have an opportunity to take the next steps to ensure Arkansas renters are protected.