Housing Policy

Missouri Lawmakers Propose Ban on Eviction Bans

A series of bills introduced in the state Legislature would prohibit city councils and county courts from adopting their own eviction moratoriums.

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A number of states have seen their pandemic-era eviction moratoriums morph from an emergency stopgap measure into institutionalized limits on evictions. Not Missouri.

The Show-Me State was one of just eight that did not adopt any eviction moratorium during COVID-19. Several state lawmakers are proposing to go further with a series of bills that would strip local governments and courts of their power to impose their own eviction bans.

"The bottom line is [eviction moratoriums] put landlords in an unfair situation. We talk a lot about government or bureaucratic agencies picking winners and losers. And I certainly felt like that that was done unlawfully," said Rep. Chris Brown (R–Kansas City) according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which first reported on the bills Friday.

The county circuit courts that cover Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri's two largest cities, both adopted their own local eviction moratoriums during the early months of the pandemic. Those were soon replaced by the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the CDC eviction order in August, the St. Louis County Council responded by passing its own weekslong eviction moratorium. It re-upped this eviction ban for a few weeks in December in response to a rise in cases caused by the omicron variant.

Brown's legislation, House Bill 1682, would specifically ban courts from suspending eviction proceedings of their own initiative without authorization from a state law. Another house bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy (R–St. Louis County) would likewise forbid localities from banning evictions without the state Legislature's approval.

These bills have received a negative reaction from some Democratic legislators and progressive activists.

In written testimony on Brown's bill, Sarah Owsley, policy and advocacy director for Empower Missouri, credited eviction moratoriums with saving lives during the pandemic and preventing large numbers of out-of-work renters from losing their homes.

Like most pandemic mitigation measures, it's not clear how effective eviction moratoriums were at preventing COVID-19 cases and deaths. Widely circulated studies showing a massive lifesaving effect of eviction bans have been roundly criticized as flawed and sloppy.

Oft-repeated predictions that the country would see an unprecedented "eviction tsunami" in the absence of moratoriums have also not played out. Evictions ticked upward after the CDC's eviction order was struck down. But they remain below pre-pandemic averages almost everywhere in the U.S., including Missouri.

Even places that were desperately slow at distributing federally funded rental assistance did not experience an eviction spike.

Owsley argues in her written testimony that eviction moratoriums are rare policies that can be necessary for "weather and health emergencies."

Prior to COVID-19, that is how eviction moratoriums operated. Their history during the pandemic suggests that eviction bans can also be incredibly sticky policies that, once imposed, are hard to back away from. The federal eviction moratorium was extended five times before it was finally struck down by the Supreme Court.

Missouri's eviction legislation is part of a trend. As Reason's Eric Boehm has reported, lawmakers across the country are proposing and passing legislation that limits the emergency powers of governors and public health officials. Too often during the pandemic, these legislators argue, executives used those emergency powers to place extreme and persistent limits on business owners' property rights.

That includes landlords, who were often forced by eviction moratoriums to provide effectively free housing to unscrupulous or even abusive tenants long after the immediate emergency of COVID-19 had faded.

By requiring the state Legislature to sign off on any moratorium, Missouri's proposed ban on eviction bans will make that a little harder to get away with come the next emergency.

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  1. When the eviction ban was overturned Allegheny County's Chief Judge ordered eviction paperwork to either not be processed or processed slowly to get around the ruling.

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  2. If one believed in governments having the duty to protect tenants from eviction, the proper response would be for governments to pay lapsed rents. Of course, this doesn't solve any problems, but better to redistribute the problem to all taxpayers than switch the burden from one subgroup (tenants) to others (landlords). Also more honest, which is why it never happens.

  3. Simply removing the moratorium on shutting down businesses from day one, as 1,000's of experts have expounded on, would have made sure this problem never happened in the first place.

    1. That would require hewing to one's principles, and politicians don't have any to hew to.

  4. Not needed. Federal law title 18 sections 241 and 242 already make it a federal felony to deprive people of their guaranteed rights under color of any law.

    The signatories of the moratorium simply need to be held accountable and imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

    If we do not intend to uphold this law, what makes anyone think government would uphold this new law?

    Prison for those who violated title 18 and the issue is fixed. Everything else is just theatre to rob us of time and money.

    1. A5 does, too: "Takings".

      1. Yes!
        If government wants to deprive a landlord of the use of their property, all it has to do is buy it, at market value - if the owner is willing to sell.
        Otherwise, keep your grubby mitts off it.

      2. Ah, the supreme court has ruled that unconstitutional.

  5. And, of course, as good libertarians, we oppose this law because it moves the responsibility away from local control.
    Right?

    1. From another perspective, the local moratoriums were moving the responsibility away from an even more local control, between the building owner and their tenant.

      1. We don't care about individuals, just governments, right?

    2. So you subscribe to the false notion that libertarian must equal anarchy? I would presume that a law barring the government at any level from ridiculous action would fall very well in line with libertarian thought, how would you possibly suppose otherwise?

  6. There doesn't need to be a law. That is already a violation of Due Process, Equal Protection, and of the Takings Clause.

    As if the left gave a crap about the constitution.

    In a sane world, every Rent Control and Affordable Housing measure would be illegal as well

    1. They actually are.
      It is just that the ones supposed to most protect the Constitution, the courts, don't.

  7. Private State. Its against libertarian principles to tell a State what to do in their private spaces.

  8. Too bad there is not some basic federal law that prohibits government from taking property from citizens.

  9. Are bans on bans OK now at Reason?

    1. I don't know that I would say it is "ok", but it is most certainly the lesser evil.

      Problem with relying on Federal Law is that it is expensive, out of reach for most people, and can take months to years before the SCOTUS finally says "ya... you can't do that".

      Having a State Law makes it much more accessible to fight and a much lower cost and much way faster.

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