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Missouri House Passes Bill Banning Local Governments From Halting Evictions

Nearly three years after the Jackson County Circuit Court temporarily halted evictions as COVID-19 raged, the GOP-controlled Missouri House on Thursday passed a bill that would ban local governments from issuing eviction moratoriums.

The bill, which passed 104-42, was filed by state Rep. Chris Brown, a Kansas City Republican, and is backed by landlord and realty groups such as the Association of Missouri Realtors. It would prohibit county and local governments from imposing or enforcing a moratorium on eviction proceedings unless approved by state law.

It also bans local governments from requiring property owners to conduct an inspection of a home before selling the property. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

“This bill is in no way a callous attempt to do something towards renters or tenants — to evict them, to force them out,” Brown, who also co-owns a family real-estate business, said on the floor earlier this week. “The landlord-tenant relationship needs the tenant. We need tenants. We just need them to pay rent.”

But Tara Raghuveer, the director of KC Tenants, a group that advocates for renters, said the legislation prioritizes landlord profits over people’s lives.

“We believe that every eviction is an act of violence,” she told The Star. “This piece of legislation is put forward by the industry and it’s intended to protect their profits over people’s lives.”

The Republican-led bill comes as the number of eviction filings in Missouri has trended upward since the start of the year, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. There have been more than 80,000 filings since March of 2020, the lab found.

The price of rent has also skyrocketed in Missouri. Since March 2020, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has increased nearly 18% percent in Missouri, according to a 2022 report from U.S. News and World Report.

Raghuveer said that while there wouldn’t be an immediate effect from the legislation, it would limit local government’s ability to respond to another public health crisis like COVID-19.

Brown’s legislation is in response to local agencies such as the circuit courts in Jackson County and St. Louis that temporarily halted evictions in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, Jackson County Circuit Court temporarily suspended the issuance of writs for two months. In landlord-tenant cases, writs are delivered by process servers to tenants requiring the tenant to be evicted from the property, said Valerie Hartman, the court’s spokesperson. The court made the order to protect the health of the public and court employees, she said.

St. Louis Circuit Court suspended eviction proceedings from mid-March 2020 through July 2020. The St. Louis City Council later passed a 15-day eviction moratorium in December 2021. Missouri never implemented a statewide eviction moratorium.

Brown said on the floor this week that when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide eviction moratorium in 2020, it created an unsustainable situation where landlords couldn’t keep their heads above water.

However, even during the federal eviction moratorium which started in September 2020 and was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court in August 2021, eviction proceedings still continued in Jackson County.

“The CDC moratorium unfortunately contained a lot of loopholes that our circuit court basically chose to exploit,” Raghuveer said. “The courts remained open, evictions continued being heard, even though there was a federal moratorium.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in December 2020 called on the Jackson County Circuit Court to reinstate its eviction moratorium when the federal moratorium was set to expire. He told The Star Thursday that that he felt the legislation targeted Kansas City and Jackson County. He said it flies in the face of Republicans who tout local control.

“I would prefer the legislature try to find ways to help fight off eviction… instead of trying to introduce these culture war type things that maybe get somebody evicted but don’t really solve the underlying problem,” he said.

Landlord groups have consistently opposed halting evictions, saying they leave property owners to pay for the cost of assisting renters. They also point out that an eviction moratorium does not cancel rent, meaning that when it ends, tenants who fell behind on payments but weren’t evicted will have to pay that back rent.

Kim Tucker, the executive director of Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors, wrote to Missouri lawmakers in support of Brown’s legislation in January. She said eviction moratoriums hurt rental property owners across the Kansas City metro.

“Many of our members out of their own goodness worked with renters to keep them in their homes and worked hard to help them get assistance to get the rent paid,” she wrote. “The moratoriums on evictions caused many to suffer great financial loss from renters that were not paying and did not qualify for rental assistance.”

Still, evictions have a long lasting impact on people other than just immediately displacing someone from their home, Raghuveer said. It hurts kids’ performance in schools, a person’s ability to get a job and the likelihood that they’ll be able to find housing again.

“The big question that we all have to be asking is, who we are as a state? And whether we’re going to allow for this relentless greed from the private industry to continue to determine how we treat our neighbors,” Raghuveer said.

Source: Kansas City