Landlords in Missouri can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Missouri.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated January 12, 2022
This article covers the basics of the Missouri eviction process. You might this useful if you’re a renter in Missouri and your landlord is threatening eviction, if you’re behind on rent, or if your lease is about to expire.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process landlords use to remove tenants from a rental property. Under Missouri law, a landlord must sue the tenant and win the lawsuit before they can evict. Landlords must use the legal process no matter what the reason for eviction is. Removing a tenant without a court order is sometimes called a self-help eviction or an illegal lockout. Self-help evictions often look like changing the locks or using force to kick a tenant out.
If your landlord illegally evicts you, get a lawyer, and if you’re comfortable doing so, contact local law enforcement. If you’re worried that your landlord is going to lock you out, you should gather important personal property like your wallet, government identification, Social Security card, and birth certificate.
Who Can Be Evicted in Missouri?
Renters often enter a rental agreement called a lease to establish their tenancy with a landlord. Anyone in a tenant-landlord relationship can be evicted. In most situations, other people living with the tenant who aren’t on the lease can be evicted if the tenant on the lease is lawfully evicted.
Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Missouri?
Generally, a tenant can be evicted if they’re behind on rent, if they’ve violated the lease, or if the lease has expired and the landlord refuses to renew it.
In Missouri, there are two major types of eviction lawsuits. The first is called rent and possession. The second is called an unlawful detainer. This article will briefly explain each type of eviction and when a landlord can use them.
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Late or Short on Rent – Rent and Possession Eviction Process
In Missouri, a landlord can begin evicting a tenant if the tenant is behind on rent at all. In other words, a landlord can file a rent and possession lawsuit if the tenant is just a dollar short or a day late on paying rent.
When a tenant is behind on rent, the landlord starts the eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent by filing a rent and possession action in court. The tenant should receive a summons that tells the tenant when and where the first court date is. A summons can be served on a tenant in two ways:
It can be hand-delivered (personal service by a process server) to the tenant, or
It can be posted on the rental unit.
Also, the summons should come with the document that the landlord filed in court, known as a petition or complaint. The petition should state the total amount of rent the landlord is suing for. If you receive a summons, you can reach out to your landlord before the first court date to try to work out an agreement that works for both of you, as long as you're comfortable doing so.
At the first court date, your case can either go to trial or be “continued” to a later date. It’s very important to know that the trial can happen the same day as the first court date. You can always ask for a continuance, which means that the trial gets rescheduled to a later date. In Missouri, tenants are entitled to one continuance.
At trial, the judge will hear evidence from the landlord that you’re a tenant and that you owe rent. If the judge agrees with the landlord that you owe rent, the judge will award the landlord a judgment, which states:
The amount of money you owe the landlord (called a money judgment), and
That the landlord is entitled to possession of the property, which means that the landlord can evict you.
Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims in a Rent and Possession Eviction
You can use affirmative defenses and counterclaims at trial. An affirmative defense is a way to reduce the amount of rent the court decides you owe. A counterclaim is different because it’s actually alleging that the landlord owes money to the tenant.
The most common types of affirmative defenses and counterclaims are based on the conditions of the rental unit. If your landlord failed to keep your housing safe, habitable, and up to building codes, you can bring those issues as affirmative defenses and counterclaims. You should bring any evidence you have, like pictures, reports, or receipts.
If you plan to bring up the conditions of the property at trial, you must file this defense or counterclaim by the first court date. If you can’t file it before the first court date, you can ask the judge for permission to file them before trial. To file your affirmative defenses and counterclaims, write down your allegations and file the document with the court. Sometimes you have to ask the judge or court employees how to file this document.
Why It’s Important Not To Miss Your Court Date
Sometimes tenants can’t attend the trial or other court dates. If a tenant fails to appear for a court date, the landlord can ask the court for a default judgment. This has the same effect as a judgment after trial. If the court enters a default judgment, tenants have 10 days to request that the court reopen the case and allow for a trial. This request is called a motion to set aside default judgment.
If you wish to file a motion to set aside, you should write down the reasons you missed your court date and why you should have a chance to go to trial. File this document with the court clerk, make sure the clerk knows about your motion, and ask the clerk what steps you need to take to make sure the judge reviews your motion.
What Happens After a Rent and Possession Eviction Trial?
The judge can enter the judgment immediately after the court hearing or at a later date. If the court finds in favor of the landlord, you have 10 days after the judgment was entered to pay the entire amount of the judgment off to continue staying at the property. This is often called “pay and stay.” If you wish to pay and stay, talk to the court clerk about the best way to make this payment. Also, make sure to keep a record of any payments you make to the court or the landlord in case the landlord argues that you didn’t pay.
After the 10 days is up, the landlord can request that the sheriff come to the property and forcefully evict the tenant. The sheriff doesn’t remove the tenant’s personal property. For this reason, the tenant should do their best to remove all of their belongings before the sheriff arrives.
New Trial – “Trial De Novo”
Within those 10 days, you can also file a request for a “trial de novo,” or new trial. But the eviction will only be stopped or “stayed” if you pay bond into the court within those 10 days. Bond is typically the amount of the money judgment. The court may also put other conditions on the bond. If you plan to pay bond and request a new trial, make sure the judge and court clerk are aware that you’re paying bond to halt the eviction until you have a new trial.
Lease Expiration or Termination – Unlawful Detainer Eviction Process
The other type of eviction, known as an unlawful detainer, isn’t based on rent being owed. Instead, landlords use unlawful detainer lawsuits when a tenant has remained on the property after their lease agreement has expired or been terminated. Unlike rent and possession lawsuits, the only issue landlords will argue at an unlawful detainer trial is that the tenant no longer has the right to be at the property. If the landlord wins at trial, they’re entitled to double the monthly rent for each month the tenant overstayed.
Unlawful detainers are a concern for renters with a month-to-month tenancy. This is because the landlord can terminate the lease for no reason by giving one month’s notice to the tenant (unless the lease says the landlord has to give more time for notice). If you receive a month’s notice to vacate, you should either try to negotiate with your landlord to renew your lease or focus on finding a place to move.
Unlawful detainers are also a concern when the landlord terminates the lease early based on an allegation of a lease violation. Common allegations are drug use, property damage, and other illegal activity. In Missouri, landlords only need to give a 10-day notice to vacate if they’re terminating the lease if a tenant violated the terms of the lease. In these situations, the trial will be focused on whether the tenant actually violated the lease.
What Happens After an Unlawful Detainer Eviction Trial?
After unlawful detainer judgments are entered, the tenant can only appeal the case. Unlike rent and possession cases, tenants can’t request a new trial. To appeal the case, the tenant must file a notice of appeal before the eviction is carried out. Also, to stop the eviction from happening during the appeal, the tenant must pay the judgment and continue to pay rent during the appeal.
For both rent and possession and unlawful detainer cases, the landlord can evict the tenant 10 days after the judgment is entered. For a landlord to lawfully evict a tenant, the landlord must request a local law enforcement officer to come and supervise the eviction. Landlords can’t evict a tenant without the presence of local law enforcement like a county sheriff.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Missouri
If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, your best bet is to have an advocate by your side. You can get legal advice and help from a tenant’s rights attorney or through a legal aid organization that focuses on eviction cases. Either will know whether your landlord followed the proper notice requirements and can help you raise any applicable defenses. Here are some tips on how to best represent your own interests if that’s not an option.
Communication is key. Reach out to your landlord as soon as a problem comes up. If you’re behind on rent, be proactive and talk to your landlord about setting up an agreement to get caught up. You should also reach out to your landlord before your lease expires to talk about renewing the lease or moving out. Good communication with your landlord can often help you avoid an eviction lawsuit. This is important because an eviction lawsuit can stay on your rental history and limit your opportunities for rental housing in the future.
You can often negotiate and resolve the case without going to trial. If your landlord files an eviction action against you, think about ways you can negotiate with your landlord or their attorney. For example, if you only owe a few months of rent, some landlords might be willing to dismiss the eviction if you pay additional money until you’ve paid the total rent due. Sometimes, landlords will drop the case if you agree to move out in a certain amount of time. Make sure that any agreement you make with your landlord is in writing and is signed by both you and your landlord.