LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – Arkansas is a state where renters have very few rights and most of the laws are in favor of the landlords, sometimes leaving people to live in poor conditions and forced to pay the rent.
LaJoy Person is one Arkansas renter who lived through uninhabitable conditions in her West Little Rock apartment. She moved into her three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with her three sons in March 2015. She originally lived in southwest Little Rock but moved away to find safer housing for her family. She paid $1,000 a month.
"When I first got the apartment, they showed me the apartment upfront. It was really nice,” Person said.
But when Person went to pick up her key close to move in day, she found out she was not assigned the apartment they told her she would be assigned to. She decided to look at the apartment to make sure everything was okay before moving in.
“They said ‘I'm sorry, we have to give your apartment to someone else. So, I come down here to check it out and as soon as I come [the] window in the back was busted open from top to bottom,” Person said.
When she continued to inspect the place, she said the problems only got worse.
"When I went downstairs it smelled like sewage. Moldy, nasty smell,” Person said. “The tile in the bathroom was cut up. You could cut your feet in my bathroom as well.”
Person said she went to the front desk to complain about the problems after inspecting the apartment. She said they were not much help.
“[I said] the window is busted out. They said maybe you did that when you moved in the couch. I said ‘No, I don’t have any furniture here. I just drove here to get a key,’” she said.
Person said management fixed the window before she moved in. But after that, she said more issues continued to pop up.
"About summer  coming, I tried to turn the air on...there was no air coming through. I told them the air was not working, I need someone to come fix the air...no…no one come and fix the air,” Person said.
Other issues included falling ceiling paint, cracked foundation and a stove that never turned off.
"The burners will be on like I'm cooking. Fiery hot. It's like I'm cooking and I'm not. I told them about it and sparks coming out of my light switches as well,” Person said.
Because the stove never turned off, Person experienced high electric bills, causing her to fall behind on payments. Some light bills were as high as 600 dollars a month for her three-bedroom apartment.
“$600 light bills on me. I have to pay. You know how stressful that is? I caught high blood pressure. I get anxiety,” Person said.
December 2015, the stove caught fire. The fire burned the cabinets and part of the wall. Person complained to the front desk to get it fixed.
“When they came in they did a messy, messy job. Let me know they didn’t care. They painted over my cereal boxes. They sanded over my dishes. All over my food. They had my food on the floor. They just didn’t care, and they let me know they didn’t care,” she said.
Neil Sealy, Executive Director of Arkansas Community Institute, said Person's story is all too common in Arkansas.
"Today, I got two or three calls from people who are having similar problems,” Sealy said. "In the state of Arkansas, there are no basic standards for rental property."
Sealy said under Arkansas law, renters are still required to pay their rent even if the unit is falling apartment. If you do not pay it, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. Arkansas is the only state in the nation that classifies nonpayment of rent as a criminal act, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
“For Little Rock, we have Little Rock city codes. Those codes are helpful, but still a renter is obligated to pay the rent, can’t break the lease, can’t withhold the rent, if codes are violated,” Sealy said.
According to the Attorney General’s office when you rent a house or apartment, you usually agree to take it “as is.” This means that the landlord is not required to provide additional maintenance to the dwelling. Even if a landlord does not make a promised repair, the tenant should continue to pay the rent.
Tenants have some recourse, such as going to claims court, moving or seeking the advice of a private attorney. But Sealy said often people cannot afford an attorney or to move out, so they have no other choice but to live in those conditions.
“What we need in Arkansas is rights for people who rent and if your unit has mold or has leaks that are not fixed, in the case of LaJoy, you should have some recourse in the law that could include breaking the lease, it could be that you withhold the rent until the situation is fixed, and it could be suing for damages in the landlord. None of that exists right now,” Sealy said.
Person reached out to the Attorney General’s office in 2016, begging for help. We reached out to Leslie Rutledge and received this statement:
"The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division investigated the circumstances surrounding Ms. Person's complaint regarding living conditions and continues to work with appropriate authorities in order to address such concerns for Arkansas consumers."
Person said the moldy conditions were never addressed. However, she said she continued to pay her rent on time.
"Smelling what I'm smelling right now is horrible. I can barely breath right now standing here,” Persons said.
Person decided to sign a month to month lease, so she could get out of her lease when she could afford to move again. She moved out in October and now lives with her sister.
"It's only about the money. That's all they care about is the money. We just a dollar sign walking in and out of the apartments. We're not human to them,” Person said.
Person said she is looking to sue her landlord because of the issues she faced.
“It’s depressing. It’s sad. It’s very strenuous because you’re pleading and the front office they won’t help you at all to get these problems fixed. They’re just like deal with it,” she said.
THV11 reached out to Person’s apartment complex and landlord for comment. We have not yet heard back.