Arkansas needs an implied warranty of habitability

Most people would agree that rental housing should be required to be structurally sound and weatherproofed, and have working plumbing, electricity, and heat and air. They should also require basic safety measures like working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. These basic minimum standards are called an “implied warranty of habitability,” and every state has one. Every state but Arkansas. That’s bad for everyone in our state, but especially families with children.

Research shows that housing quality has a big impact of kids’ health and well-being. Growing up in substandard housing has negative effects on child development. Poor quality housing is associated with poorer health and more medical visits and hospitalizations for kids. These negative impacts on child development and health have lifelong implications, making it harder for kids to do well in school, which can reduce their economic opportunities as adults.

Unfortunately, children in Arkansas are more vulnerable than average. Families with kids are more likely to live in rental households. Around a third of Arkansans are renters, but that number is about 4 in 10 for families with children. That means hundreds of thousands of kids are potentially vulnerable to housing that could be bad for their health.

Currently, families who are exposed to unlivable housing conditions have no legal recourse to break their lease, which means they’re stuck paying for housing that’s harming their health. Being forced to pay for housing that harms your health makes it even harder for families to save and build wealth, especially families from historically marginalized communities.

In large part because of historical discriminatory mortgage lending practices and a persistent lack of equity within the industry, Black, Latino and Asian families are more likely to be renters and are at greater risk from a lack of rental protections. When reviewing adverse child outcomes, several of them are directly associated with the quality of housing the children live in. At the very least, we should ensure rental housing isn’t contributing to costly health issues and their associated medical bills.

Every other state already guarantees families that rent these basic rights. Arkansas should join them by passing HB 1563.