FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — An Arkansas woman is hoping to raise awareness about renters’ rights after she said she was nearly forced to let tailgaters into her home to use her bathroom.
Another neighbor who did agree to open up to tailgaters said dozens of strangers walked in and out of the home. Both families have since moved out.
“We have kids and pets, and we have a right to a peaceful existence,” said Jennifer Dykes, of Fayetteville.
Dykes said she and her family had lived peacefully in their Fayetteville home for 2 1/2 years before this year’s football season.
“Tailgating is part of the process here,” explained Dykes. “We were made aware of that when we moved into the home.”
The front lawn is rented out to tailgaters every year during home games. Dykes said since the Arkansas Razorbacks weren’t very strong in 2019, tailgaters didn’t come out in full force. And with the pandemic preventing fan attendance in 2020, last year was also quiet.
But this year, thousands of fans returned to Fayetteville for the season. Dykes said the property manager came to her and her neighbors with a new request.
“He calls me and says, “Hey, I have a huge favor. You know I’ve been kind to you. You know I’ve been generous with you up until now. I need to use your bathroom. I don’t have anywhere for tailgaters to use the bathroom. It’s going to be a handful of ladies. It’s not going to be dozens of people coming in and out,”‘ she said.
Property manager Michael Kaminski told KNWA that this has always been part of the bargain of living at this affordable property.
“I thought we were all on the same page,” he said. “That I would negotiate a deal with tenants sometimes on WiFi situations if tailgaters needed that or restroom situations if we could not find a port-a-potty. This year was tight with port-a-potties because there was a supply chain issue.”
Dykes said her neighbor was overwhelmed during the Texas game.
The neighbor told KNWA anonymously that she and her husband were dealing with COVID-19 symptoms that weekend, and that their concerns were brushed off when she brought it up to Kaminski.
Dykes and her neighbor both said letting people into their homes had never been brought up, and the only way they had to accommodate the tailgaters was to move their vehicles off the property.
“According to my neighbor, she said between 12:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., they counted 289 individuals, a lot of them college-age people and their parents had entered and left their home,” said Dykes.
The neighbor confirmed this number, saying her husband was the one who tallied each person who came in.
“We were all aware that it was going to be as many people who needed to use the restroom, with kind of an emphasis on the ladies, and going to let guys go around the corner and pee on the grass,” said Kaminski. “We cut a deal on rent, taking some of the rent for that month.”
The neighbor confirmed the deal on rent, but she said she was threatened with eviction if she didn’t comply. She said she felt trapped because her family couldn’t afford to leave. She said she was not prepared for the number of people who entered her home and was uncomfortable with the situation.
Dykes admitted to having trouble paying rent during the pandemic because both she and her husband lost their jobs. She said Kaminski was very patient in working with them through those difficult months, but she was under the impression she was fully caught up on rent after receiving an emergency rental assistance grant.
Dykes said when her family refused to open their home for tailgaters, they were also threatened with eviction.
“The rent being brought up as a condition for allowing them to use my restroom really felt like retribution and really felt like, ‘You are not going to accommodate my demands, I’m going to kick you out,'” she said.
Kaminski said he told Dykes her family had to leave after a heated phone call and because she was four months behind on rent, not because of the bathrooms. Dykes said she was never officially told how far behind she was on her rent.
Kaminski said they also had plans to remodel the property and were preparing to close the property in the near future. He felt this would be the best time for that given the way the dynamic with his tenants was going.
He confirmed that there was no lease for any of his tenants on the property and that they did not sign any legally binding documents saying they would allow tailgaters into their homes.
“The reason it was a wonderful property to manage for us to give people like them an opportunity,” he said. “You don’t have to do a background check, they don’t want a lease, they don’t want to pay a deposit, so it was an opportunity for them to get in and get out when times get tough.”
“Arkansas landlord-tenant law gives fewer rights than any other state in the United States,” said Lynn Foster, a professor at the University of Arkansas William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock. She also works for fair landlord-tenant laws through the organization she presides over, Arkansans for Stronger Communities.
She said this situation could be argued as a violation of the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment.
“The tenant has the right to exclusive possession of the premises and can’t be disturbed by the landlord or anyone working for the landlord or anyone the landlord has given permission to come onto the premises,” she said.
Dykes said the situation highlights the need for renters’ rights and more affordable housing in northwest Arkansas.
“We have constitutional rights like liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and I feel having a roof over your head that you can afford without being harassed should be part of that,” said Dykes.
Kaminski said he has officially closed the property for renovations, and all the tenants have to leave by the end of October.
He said he plans to reopen it again to tenants in the future. He gave good landlord references to the families as they searched for new homes.
Dykes said she and her family have been able to secure a new home in Springdale, Arkansas. The anonymous neighbor also said her family has found a new home.