ACLU accuses Missouri courts of violating federal eviction ban

Jackson County allowed new non-payment filings and ignored tenant eligibility declarations, lawsuit alleges

National /
Sep.September 30, 2020 03:00 PM
(iStock)
(iStock)

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Kansas City, Missouri, tenants, alleging that courts in that state violated the federal eviction ban.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday morning in the U.S. District Court of Missouri’s Western Division, alleges that courts in Jackson County have ignored the Centers for Disease Control’s directive that bans taking actions to remove eligible tenants from their homes. Kansas City landlords have continued to file evictions for non-payment regardless of whether tenants say they are covered by the federal ban, according to the suit.

The ACLU’s move follows numerous lawsuits filed by landlord groups against federal, state and local governments, which seek to stop limits on evictions during the pandemic. Last week, a national group representing 85,000 landlords joined a federal lawsuit challenging the CDC ban on evictions.

Instead of allowing tenants to declare they are covered by the federal eviction ban, plaintiffs say that the Jackson County 16th Judicial Circuit Court held proceedings where landlords demanded tenants’ tax records, bank statements, proof of government aid and other personal information.

A spokesperson for the 16 Judicial Circuit Court declined to comment.

On Sept. 3, one day before the CDC rule was entered into the federal register, the Jackson County Civil Court announced it would allow eviction filings if landlords submitted verification that their tenants had not said they were eligible for federal protection. That guidance “overrides” the protections afforded by the federal eviction ban, the plaintiffs alleged.

The lawsuit also raises concerns that many tenants, especially low-income workers who may have difficulty documenting their eligibility, could subject themselves to perjury charges.

Holding hearings and allowing new filings also conflicted with the court’s own written guidance on evictions, the lawsuit alleges. On Aug. 13, the Jackson County Civil Court released a public statement saying that if President Trump or Missouri’s governor issued such a moratorium, “the Court will enforce and give effect to such valid Order.”

It is unclear how many people in Jackson County have been physically evicted or have left their homes after receiving notices of eviction for non-payment since the federal ban was put in place.

Tara Raghuveer, who leads KC Tenants, said that she noticed a drop-off in eviction filings immediately after CDC’s ban was put into place — but they spiked again soon after, she said.

“The court is handing landlords a playbook to continue evicting their tenants,” Raghuveer said. “They’re facilitating a process that is inherently violent to tenants during a pandemic.”


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