Defaulting Tenants Could Be Jailed, in 1900


A law passed in Alabama in 1900 made it illegal for someone to quit an employment contract, or break a lease, and then enter into a similar contract or lease with someone else!  The employer, or the landlord, could swear out a warrant and have the other person arrested.  If the employee or tenant did not have a good excuse that a judge might find persuasive, they were found guilty of a  misdemeanor. They could be fined $50, or sentenced to six months of hard labor, or both.

According to the website http://www.measuringworth.com, the time for an unskilled laborer to earn $50 in 1900 is roughly the same as the time for a similar unskilled worker to earn $6,580 in 2015.  Looking at things that way, a $50 fine in 1900 is the same as a $6,580 fine today!  There is another way to measure a change in the value of $50. You can say, “What commodities would $50 buy in 1900, and what would those same commodities cost today?” Using that measurement, a $50 fine in 1900 would be the same as a $1,450 fine today.

Plus, there was the possibility of six months of hard labor on top of that!  All for breaking a lease!

The statute was ruled unconstitutional in 1904, in Toney v. State, 141 Ala. 120, 37 So. 332.  Tenant’s rights have come a long way since 1900!