Arkansas, home of the Ozark Mountains, is known for its abundance of natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, and roughly half of the world’s production of bromine and silica stone. Although Arkansas provides a vast amount of raw materials to the world, what is often provided to tenants in this state is far less generous in terms of legal protection. It is for this reason that, as a renter in Arkansas, it is very important to be aware of the rights you do posses and what steps should be followed to ensure that your home is a healthy one. For instance, one of the many issues that can plague a residence is the existence of toxic mold, a biological contaminant that can be the cause of much damage on a structure and its inhabitants.
As mentioned above, mold is considered a biological contaminant. Different species affect individuals differently; however, there are some molds considered dangerous to all those exposed. One of the many problems that results from having an infestation of mold in a building is the loss of structural integrity. Mold requires the existence of water; generally speaking, if there has been water damage in a home, mold is most likely present. It also means that rot may exist, as mold feeds on organic materials (wood), often resulting in a weakening of the structure. As for the occupants living in the dwelling, some of the common symptoms of mold exposure include allergy-like reactions, nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes, cough, nose bleeds, flu-like symptoms, and upper respiratory issues. Some of the more severe reactions to mold exposure include exacerbation of asthma, kidney damage, and damage to the immune system, nervous stem, respiratory arrest, and even death. The elderly, children, and the immune-compromised are more susceptible to the intense responses. This is the reason that proper mold inspection and testing are necessary to ensure the safety of all those living in the unit. Testing or inspection can be used as a precautionary measure, or to identify the scope of the problem.
Some states have started to include mold in their legislation, indicating that it makes a home uninhabitable if it is present in large quantities. Arkansas unfortunately is not one of those states, so dealing with such a problem is far trickier. Tenants in the state of Arkansas, although limited in the amount of protection allotted them under law, do have some rights to habitable rentals. “Implied warranty,” does not extend across the entire state. However, there are some smaller areas that may have ordinances with standards that allow for an implied warranty of habitability. The best way to determine your rights to a clean, healthy unit is to contact the City Housing Inspector of your city to ask if an implied warranty of habitability exists for your area. If one does exist, it could mean that excessive mold growth may label a home as uninhabitable.
Another important aspect of picking a rental property in Arkansas is having a comprehensive understanding of the lease. Know what you are signing. If the lease contains a clause indicating your landlord is not responsible for repairs (releasing him/her from liability), consider finding another place to live. You can also ask the landlord if they would be willing to remove this clause from the lease, as you feel it is in fact their responsibility to maintain the dwelling to a certain degree. Arkansas state law (Ark. Code Ann § 18-16-110 – Landlord’s liability arising from alleged defects or disrepair of premises) states that the landlord is not liable for any damage to the dwelling as a result of disrepair or defect, and places the obligation strictly on the shoulders of the tenant. The only exception to this would be if the landlord agreed “by conduct of a duty to undertake an obligation to maintain or repair the leased premises.” It is important that if the landlord does in fact agree to make specific or general repairs to the unit that you get this in writing and have it notarized. This of course can be used in court if the landlord later recants his/her duty to fix a given problem. If this is not an option, or if you have already signed a lease, unfortunately in the state of Arkansas it may be difficult to ensure the problem will be resolved by the landlord. Contacting a lawyer about your situation may also give you a better understanding of your rights and what your next step should be.
Fortunately for those who qualify for low-income housing (Section 8) or Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), the habitability of the homes is closely monitored. For example, prior to a landlord being able to label their property as Section 8 or low income housing, the property must pass an initial inspection. The inspection requires that specific things are present or not present prior to the property being rented. Some of those requirements include: the plumbing must be working; there must be a bathroom window or vent; a Letter of Lead Paint Compliance is required for units which will be rented by families with children under the age of six; doors and windows must be weather tight; all kitchen and bathroom floors must be water tight; tub and shower walls must be waterproof, with no loose or missing tiles, and must be free of mold or mildew; common areas such as the basement, exterior, and hallways must be inspected. The above list does not include all that is necessary in order for a rental property to pass code. All inquiries should be directed to the City House Inspector, Arkansas Health Department, or an attorney to determine what your next course of action should be.
In an area like Arkansas it can be difficult to ensure the health and safety of those living in rental units. However, individuals can take certain steps to assure their safety, depending on the town or city in which they live. Regardless of whether the landlord is obligated to help maintain a property, if mold growth is suspected in a home it is imperative that a proper mold inspection and testing be done. This will indicate whether the air in your home is safe to inhale and prevent exacerbated health issues as a result of exposure. Even though specific laws do not exist in Arkansas to preserve tenant rights, as an individual you still have the right to a safe home for the sake of your health and your family’s.