Since the founding of America, our constitution has been an important guiding document for the country and each state. The Bill of Rights demonstrates a fundamental fairness that should apply to everyone within the justice system. While clearly there were some significant flaws, including that giant loophole which allowed for the enslavement of human beings, Americans still fundamentally wish to see our country as a fair one. Applied equitably and equally, due process and prohibiting excessive punishment are important American ideals we should all appreciate.
When people are forcefully removed from their homes, this is a life changing experience for many families and children. Tenants often lose belongings, money, important paperwork, and sentimental items in the eviction process. Children may be removed from their communities, leaving behind friendships, teachers, and other important relationships which are significant for proper social and emotional development. Workers will miss days of work, and far too often, they end up losing their jobs entirely. It is evident that securing decent housing after an eviction is nearly impossible. Often, eviction is the introduction for families to homelessness. None of these life-shattering consequences of eviction are fair, and they are certainly long lasting and extreme.
Tenants in eviction court almost always lose. Most often tenants don’t show up to court or they show up without representation. Eviction proceedings take hours. It is valuable time that hourly workers often don’t have on a given day. When tenants do win, their eviction is denied; they are allowed to stay in place, but landlords are almost never forced to compensate their tenants for legal expenses or time off work. In the legal fight, there is a big difference between civil and criminal cases, however it is clear to many that the scales of justice are more tilted towards property owners than their tenants in Missouri.
While evictions have slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic in major cities in Missouri, evictions have more than doubled in the last year in other parts of the state. Our partners at ArchCity Defenders can’t provide legal counseling for every tenant, but they did recently publish a Pro Se illustrated guidebook to help tenants represent themselves in eviction court. The guide helps tenants discover if their landlord has filed an eviction, how to file an appeal, and what to say in court. While the Pro Se STL book centers around the St Louis court system, we believe tenants all over the state will benefit from its advice.
With eviction having such a long lasting impact and the power imbalance that exists between landlords and their tenants, Empower Missouri believes every tenant should be entitled to legal representation in eviction court. Missouri residents should go through mediation before court, allowing them a chance to explain their side to someone impartial and help both parties come to an agreement. Until we reach that vision, showing up and speaking up in court is a tenant’s best chance.
Senior Policy and Organizing Director