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Missouri Republicans push plan to prohibit local eviction moratoriums

Eviction moratoriums designed to keep people in their homes during the pandemic have drawn the ire of Missouri lawmakers, with Republicans pushing a plan to prohibit them in the future. 

State Rep. Chris Brown, R-Kansas City, is sponsoring a measure that would prohibit any county, municipality, or political subdivision from imposing or enforcing a moratorium on eviction proceedings unless specifically authorized by state law.

He says the public health orders hurt landlords, particularly on retirees who rely on that rental income.

“These people have lease agreements, obviously, with these tenants,” Brown told The Independent, “and I certainly believe also it’s a violation of property rights.”

The bill passed the House earlier this month, 102-36, and now is waiting to be heard by the Senate Committee on Local Government and Elections.

It has strong support from the Missouri Association of Realtors, but faces opposition from groups who advocate on behalf of low-income residents.

“With full confidence, those moratoria not only kept children and families in place, but it saved lives and reduced the spread of a virus which has taken the lives of over 18,000 of our neighbors,” said Sarah Owsley, director of policy and at Empower Missouri.

The eviction and utility shut-off moratoriums were also accompanied by an unprecedented level of rental and utility support, Owsley said. In Missouri, federal COVID-relief housing assistance was offered to landlords months before it was available to renters.

However, Brown said landlords had trouble getting their hands on those funds.

“I don’t know where the fault lies,” Brown said, “but it’s just the same kind of story that you know, money’s allocated, but it just never gets to where it’s supposed to go.” 

The federal government also established mortgage deference programs for homeowners, as did many of the major private lending institutions. 

Last August, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) second eviction moratorium, which had prevented the eviction of any tenants who live in counties that are experiencing substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission and who make certain declarations of financial need. 

Brown believes the court ruled fairly, and the purpose of his bill is not “some callous attempt to kick people out of their properties.”

“It’s just trying to protect, again, contract law, property rights,” Brown said. “I think [the CDC] stretched their authority a little bit, and obviously the Supreme Court eventually agreed with that.” 

The bill was also amended to prevent local governments from enacting policies that require homeowners to purchase a home inspection before selling their home. 

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said the bill was another attempt by Republicans to take away local control for municipalities and cities to respond to crisis situations. 

“We shouldn’t be coming in as a state,” he said, “and telling them what they can and can’t do in their local community.”

This article by Rebecca Rivas is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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