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Tenants' Right to Counsel

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Written by Dr. Sarah Anderson
Published on December 2, 2022
Research Highlights

About 1/3 of households rent in MO. Evictions can lead to increased mental health issues, housing instability, and homelessness.

In Missouri, the eviction process can take 1 to 3 months, depending on the reason for eviction.

Right to counsel for tenants reduces eviction filings and evictions. It may also reduce state spending on social services that would otherwise be allocated due to evictions.

About 50,000 MO homes receive eviction notices each year.

42% of Missouri renters are cost-burdened, meaning that they spend more than 35% of their income on rent. Black (54%), mixed-race (47%), and Hispanic renters (43%) are overrepresented in this group (US Census, 2016, 2020).

In MO, about 6% of households face an eviction filing annually (Eviction Lab, 2018). Table 1 lists counties with the highest filing rates in Missouri (see Supplemental Table 1 for a complete list of county eviction filing rates). Reasons for eviction include late payment of rent (30 days), lease violation, illegal activity, or the end of the lease. In the US, about 90% of evictions are due to late payment of rent (Gromis, 2022; Brescia, 2009; Kleysteuber, 2007).

Eviction filing rates are higher in areas with larger populations and higher rent burdens (Gromis, 2022). Additionally, filing rates are higher in MO than in IL and KS which have filing rates of 3%, half of Missouri’s filing rate. For example, St. Louis city's filing rate is 7.7%, while counties in the Metro East, have filing rates of 3.9% and 3.5%. Similar trends are found in the counties near Kansas City (Eviction Lab, 2018). This is potentially due to laws in IL and KS that require landlords to give the renters a notice of late rent and a chance to pay that rent before filing for eviction (Gromis, 2022). MO does not have this requirement.

Eviction history makes it more challenging to be approved for future rentals, increases relocation to poorer and higher crime areas, and increases the risk of homelessness. Evictions can also increase emergency room use, rates of maternal depression, and suicide (Gromis, 2022; Collinson and Reed, 2018; Desmond and Kimbro, 2015; Desmond and Shollenberger, 2015; Fowler et al., 2014).

To evict a tenant in MO, landlords must go to court.

1. Notice to quit. If a tenant breaks or terminates the lease or breaks the law, the landlord must give a “notice to quit” which gives the tenant anywhere from 10-60 days to leave the premises depending on why they are being told to leave.

2. Eviction filing. If the tenant stays past the notice to quit, the landlord files a complaint in court where a trial date is set no more than 21 business days after (15 days for illegal activity).

3. Notice of court date. A 3rd party must notify the tenant in person or by a notice left on the property at least 4 days before the court date.

4. Court decision. On the court date, if the tenant does not appear, judgment goes in favor of the landlord. If the judgment goes in favor of the landlord, the tenants will have 10 days to leave the premises before law enforcement removes them from the property.

5. Removal. If tenants leave before law enforcement removes them, they are not legally considered to have been evicted. Therefore, the eviction filing rate better reflects tenant displacement than eviction rates (Souza, 2022).

Eviction is illegal in MO if the landlord removes tenants’ belongings, shuts off utilities, or changes the locks (Souza, 2022). However, there is no data on how common this practice is.

Right to Counsel (RTC) improves outcomes for tenants.

In eviction cases, about 3% of tenants appear in court with representation compared to 82% of landlords (NCCRC, 2022). Tenants’ RTC requires free legal representation to be provided to tenants who are facing eviction. Thirteen cities (e.g., Minneapolis, Detroit, Louisville, Cleveland, Kansas City) provide tenants’ RTC.

There is little data on how tenants’ RTC impacts landlords, including its impact on property vacancy rates, the likelihood of being paid rent, or the likelihood of mediating with tenants rather than filing for eviction.

In 2021, CT, MD, and WA passed state laws that grant tenants' RTC for evictions (Franzese & Thomas, 2022). MD has projected that every dollar spent providing RTC the state will save $6.24 that would otherwise be spent on social services (such as emergency shelters, housing programs, and foster care) (Stout, 2020). While there is no data yet on the impact of these programs, WA and CT will have reports by 2023.

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