Tenants have certain rights when they rent a home. Tenants have the right to the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the home. Landlords may have the right to evict tenants.
However, landlords must go through the legal eviction process and get a “writ of possession” from a court to allow the local sheriff’s department to evict a tenant. Landlords cannot “self-help” evict tenants outside of the court system by changing the locks, removing the doors, shutting off utilities are illegal. Tenants facing eviction may qualify for free legal aid from the Center for Arkansas Legal Services or Legal Aid of Arkansas.
This activity may be legal if the tenant has moved out or the landlord reasonably thinks that the tenant has abandoned the property.
Common types of self-help eviction include:
Changing the locks;
Removing the tenants’ personal property from the home;
Removing or breaking windows or doors; AND
Shutting off the tenant’s utilities.
Call your local police department. They may take action against your landlord for criminal mischief, trespass, etc. In most cases, the police will not act in these situations because they see them as a civil or non-criminal matter.
You should not attempt to “break back into” the home if the locks have been changed without the involvement of local police.
You may be able to turn your utilities back on without involving the courts. You may be able to turn the utilities back on yourself if they were shut off in a simple manner. However, you should be careful not to put yourself at risk or damage the property. For example, if the landlord turned off the water by turning off the valves inside the home, you can turn them back on.
In many cases, the utility company has shut off utilities to the home at the landlord’s request. A good first step here is to contact the company and ask them to restore utilities to the home and put the account in your name if it is not already. Your city code enforcement department may take action against your landlord for violating property maintenance codes. Other government officials such as the Mayor or local Fire Chief may be helpful especially in more rural areas.
Yes. Arkansas tenants can sue landlords for “forcible entry” after a self-help eviction. The court can allow the tenant to regain access to the home and award the tenant money damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. However, this may not be in the tenant’s best interest. The landlord might “counterclaim” or sue to evict the tenant through the same case. A self-help eviction alone does not give a tenant the right to keep living in a home when the landlord has a legal basis to evict them. People are encouraged to contact the Center for Arkansas Legal Services or Legal Aid of Arkansas for advice and assistance with their specific situation.