From the Field: St. Louis City Renters Gain Expanded Legal Protections from Illegal “Lock-Out” Evictions

Too many renters in St. Louis have been victims of “lockout” evictions, whereby landlords simply remove belongings from a home and change the locks without going through the required legal process. In the worst cases, landlords prevent evicted renters from accessing their belongings, which often include medical supplies or work-required uniforms. As in many states, lockout evictions are illegal under Missouri law, but renters—especially those with the lowest incomes—often find that they have little if any recourse when locked out of their homes illegally. The St. Louis City Board of Aldermen took action on October 20, passing a new ordinance that provides options for prosecutors to take criminal action against landlords who illegally evict renters and clarifies renters’ rights to pursue civil action.

Board Bill 87, introduced by Alderman Terry Kennedy, is a victory for advocates and legal services attorneys in the region. The bill was passed on a unanimous vote of the Board of Aldermen and signed into law shortly thereafter by St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson. Efforts to introduce and pass Board Bill 87 were led by the St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC) and a coalition of other groups, including Empower Missouri, an NLIHC state partner (see Memo, 9/19/16).

In Missouri, a landlord cannot evict a renter without a court order, but renters have little legal recourse when it happens. Often, renters who contacted the police were told that all evictions are handled as civil matters. The new law empowers police to stop illegal evictions as they are taking place. Under Board Bill 87, the penalties for landlords who carry out evictions without a court order include a fine of up to $1,000 or a period of imprisonment of up to 90 days.

The new law also forbids landlords from collecting rent for a unit during the period an occupant was illegally evicted. Previously, landlords would commonly refuse to release a tenant’s belongings until unpaid rent was received, including the period during which the tenant no longer had access to the home. Board Bill 87 also clarifies that renters aggrieved by illegal eviction have the right to pursue civil action to recoup any damages.

Empower Missouri’s Affordable Housing and Homelessness Task Force will now work with Ms. Krewson’s office to ensure full implementation of Board Bill 87 and will endeavor to replicate their efforts in other cities in the state.

Read Board Bill 87 at: http://bit.ly/2i3tU9v

For more information, contact Nicole McKoy, co-chair of Empower Missouri’s Affordable Housing and Homelessness Task Force, at: nicole_mckoy@usc.salvationarmy.org