The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Missouri filed an amicus brief with the Circuit Court of Jackson County urging the court to immediately halt all stages of eviction proceedings and act swiftly to address the egregious violations of tenants’ constitutional rights arising from eviction proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Missouri courts have begun hearing eviction cases without providing effective mechanisms to ensure tenants’ constitutional and statutory rights are protected. This emergency amicus brief argues two legal issues that warrant the Court’s immediate action. First, the federal CARES Act’s eviction ban requires a compliance procedure for determining whether a property is covered by the Act’s protections prior to filing an eviction action. Although some courts require landlords to submit check-box forms indicating compliance with the CARES Act, these measures are implemented inconsistently and fail to provide tenants with any notice or opportunity to respond to the landlords’ assertions prior to the filing of an eviction case. Second, the remote and in-person proceedings taking place in Missouri violate tenants’ due process rights—leaving many tenants unable to participate in their defense and at risk of unfairly receiving a default judgment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already resulted in widespread and devastating economic consequences, as the number of unemployment claims continues to climb nationwide. In Missouri, the unemployment rate has increased to an alarming 10.1 percent, with over 667,300 initial claims filed in the fourteen weeks since Governor Parsons declared a state of emergency.
Despite the ongoing economic fallout, Missouri remains one of only nine states in the nation that has not issued a statewide eviction moratorium to protect tenants from being kicked out of their homes during a global health pandemic. Evictions undoubtedly will disproportionately distress communities of color, and particularly, women of color. Earlier this year, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Data Analytics team found that, on average, Black women renters had evictions filed against them by landlords at double the rate of white renters (or higher) in 17 of 36 states, including Missouri.
These disparities in evictions have long term effects that only further perpetuate racial inequities in housing - tenants with prior eviction records are often denied housing opportunities due to tenant-screening policies that reject anyone with a prior eviction. The ACLU is urging a halt to these eviction proceedings in an effort to advance the rights of tenants and maintain safe and secure housing for all.