The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Missouri filed an emergency brief today urging the Circuit Court of Jackson County to halt eviction proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACLU is urging the court to immediately halt all stages of eviction proceedings and to act swiftly to address what it describes as “egregious violations of tenants’ constitutional rights arising from eviction proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, said, “Allowing evictions to proceed in violation of federal law and in the face of significant constitutional concerns will further harm Black women and other tenants of color - worsening the existing racial disparities that have emerged in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. All residents should have access to safe and stable housing throughout the course of this ongoing public health crisis.”

The ACLU says Missouri courts have begun hearing eviction cases without providing effective mechanisms to ensure tenants’ constitutional and statutory rights are protected.

The emergency amicus brief argues two legal issues. “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, the ACLU says 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 ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread and devastating economic consequences nationwide, as the number of unemployment claims continues to climb. The ACLU says 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 of COVID-19, 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,” the ACLU says.  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.”

“People across the country are taking to the streets to change the racist institutional inequalities and inadequate protections of our current system in housing, medical care, economic, and criminal justice,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “These inequities are only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the constitutional rights of Missouri’s most vulnerable during a deadly global pandemic is vital to a fair, just, and thriving state.”

The ALCU says 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 case in question is Millenia Housing Management Limited, vs. Gary Dewey, et. al., case No. 2016-CV12874.

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