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Missouri Renters Gain More Rights in Eviction Cases

In Missouri, a renter is not excused from honoring a lease simply because he or she didn't read it or doesn't understand it. (Pixabay)
In Missouri, a renter is not excused from honoring a lease simply because he or she didn't read it or doesn't understand it. (Pixabay)
December 11, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that tenants have the right to a jury trial in rent and possession evictions.

The unanimous ruling in the case of Brainchild Holdings LLC v. Cameron is expected to help crack down on illegal evictions throughout Missouri. The tenant, Stephanie Cameron, who is blind, alleged that her landlord failed to maintain guardrails on a stairway and left her flooring unfinished, creating hazards due to her disability.

A lower court denied Cameron's request for a jury trial. But Glenn Burleigh, community engagement specialist with the Metro St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, said his team knew they had a good chance of winning an appeal.

"We're excited that we had a unanimous decision in our favor,” Burleigh said. “And you know, we're hopeful that this is another step towards sort of re-balancing things, to a more equitable relationship between tenants and landlords."

The Missouri Constitution already extends the right to trial by jury in most contract cases. Right now, illegal evictions are a civil matter in Missouri. If a person wants access to their belongings after being locked out of their home, they would have to take up the issue in court.

Burleigh said that option can be daunting for low-income renters who have predatory landlords. He said denying a renter's right to be heard by a jury of their peers had been an additional burden.

"This doesn't mean that every case automatically goes to jury trial,” he said. "This just means that you have the right to request a jury trial, like you would in any other civil matter."

Missouri's landlord-tenant laws offer protection for tenants with unresponsive landlords, as well as options for landlords to get rid of drug dealers, destructive tenants and people unlawfully occupying a rental property.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO