Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Missouri

If you're a tenant getting evicted in Missouri, you may have legal grounds to fight it. Here's an overview of your rights.

In Missouri, a landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay rent or for violating the lease or rental agreement, among other reasons. A tenant being evicted for failing to pay rent or for violating the lease may have at least one defense available.

This article examines the basic eviction process in Missouri and some of the most common defenses to use against eviction lawsuits.

Reasons for Eviction in Missouri

Missouri state statue regulates the relationship between landlords and tenants and sets out all the rules a landlord must follow when evicting a tenant. The most common reasons tenants are evicted are for failing to pay rent or violating the lease agreement. In order for a landlord to lawfully evict a tenant, the landlord must file an eviction lawsuit with the court and then receive a court order allowing the eviction to occur. Before filing an eviction lawsuit, the landlord must give the tenant a notice. The type of notice required depends on the reason for the eviction.

Failure to Pay Rent

One of the most common reasons tenants are evicted is for failing to pay rent. Once a tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord must give the tenant a demand for rent. If the tenant still fails to pay rent, the landlord can begin the eviction proceedings with the court. Missouri law does not state how long a landlord must wait before filing an eviction lawsuit with the court, after giving a demand for rent. If the tenant pays the rent after the demand is given, but before the landlord files the eviction lawsuit, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § § 535.020 and 535.060).

Lease Violations

Another common reason a tenant is evicted is for violating the lease. In Missouri, if a tenant violates any portion of the lease agreement, the landlord must first give the tenant a ten-day notice that states the tenant has ten days to move out of the rental property or the tenant will be evicted. The landlord is not required to give the tenant any time to fix the lease violation. This means that at the end of the ten days, the landlord can proceed with the eviction if the tenant has not moved out of the rental unit, even if the tenant corrected the lease violation (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § § 441.030 and 441.040).

Examples of lease violations include having unauthorized people living in the apartment or having a dog when no pets are allowed.

Eviction Process

A tenant can only be evicted from a rental unit upon court order. To obtain a court order, a landlord must file paperwork with the courts.

If the landlord is attempting to evict the tenant for failure to pay rent, the landlord must file an affidavit with the circuit court setting out the details leading up to the eviction, including when the demand was given and how much rent is due and owing. The tenant will receive a copy of the paperwork filed with the court, along with a date and time for a hearing before a judge (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.020).

If the landlord is evicting the tenant for violating the lease, the landlord must submit a complaint and summons to the circuit court. The complaint must contain all the details of the lease violation and the notice given. The tenant will receive a copy of the complaint and summons and a date for a hearing (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § 534.030).

In either case, if the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must appear at the hearing and present a defense. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and then make a final decision regarding the eviction.

The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord’s court and attorney’s fees if unsuccessful in court. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.

Eviction Defenses in Missouri

A tenant being evicted for failing to pay rent or violating the lease may have at least one defense available.

Landlord Evicts Tenant with "Self-Help" Eviction

The only way a landlord can evict a tenant in Missouri is by receiving a court order allowing the eviction to occur. It is illegal for a landlord to attempt to evict a tenant through any other means, such as changing the locks or shutting off the utilities at the rental property (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.223). This is often referred to as a “self-help” eviction, and a tenant can sue the landlord for damages if the landlord attempts to evict the tenant in such a manner. For more information on the topic, see the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Missouri.

Landlord Did Not Follow Proper Eviction Procedures

A landlord must carefully follow all the rules set forth in the Missouri statutes when attempting to evict a tenant, or the eviction may not be valid. A tenant can use insufficient procedure as a defense to an eviction. For example, a landlord is required to give a tenant at least a ten-day notice when evicting a tenant for violating the lease. If the landlord files the eviction lawsuit without giving the tenant a ten-day notice, the tenant can use lack of notice as a defense to the eviction. The eviction proceedings would then stop, and the landlord would be required to give the tenant the ten-day notice. After the ten days ends, the landlord would need to file a new eviction lawsuit. The eviction would then proceed as normal. This type of a defense will not completely stop a justified eviction, but it can delay it. As soon as the landlord fixes the insufficient procedure, the eviction will continue.

Landlord is Evicting Tenant for Not Paying Rent

A tenant may have a defense available if being evicted for failing to pay rent.

Tenant Paid Rent in Full

A landlord is required to give a tenant a demand for rent before filing the paperwork with the court to begin an eviction. If the tenant pays rent after receiving the demand but before the landlord has filed the eviction paperwork with the court, then the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.020). A tenant should always ask for a time-stamped receipt when paying rent because of a demand for rent. This way, if the landlord proceeds with the eviction even after receiving rent, the tenant can use the receipt as evidence that rent was paid before the eviction lawsuit began.

Landlord Did Not Maintain the Rental Unit

A landlord with a rental property in Missouri is required to maintain the rental unit in a fit and habitable condition, keep the rental unit clean and safe, and comply with all housing and building codes. If a landlord does not maintain the rental unit according to these standards, a tenant can cause the repairs to be made and then deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent, as long as the tenant also meets a few criteria.

To be able to make a necessary repair and then deduct the amount of the repair from rent, a tenant must have lived in the rental unit for at least six months, be current on paying rent, and be in compliance with the lease. Then the tenant must give the landlord written notice that the rental unit needs a necessary repair. The landlord will have 14 days to make the repair, or shorter in the case of an emergency. If the landlord does not make the repair, the tenant can cause the repair to be made and then deduct the amount of the repair from the rent. However, the tenant can only do this if the cost of the repair is less than one month’s rent (see Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.234).

If the landlord decides to evict the tenant after the tenant pays reduced rent, the tenant can use evidence that the rental unit was in need of necessary repair as a defense to the rental unit. For more information on this topic, see the Nolo article Missouri Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct.”

Landlord Evicts Tenant Based on Discrimination

The federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act make it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.

Additional Resources for Tenants in Missouri

Legal aid services can provide low-cost or free legal help to those who qualify based on income. Missouri has legal aid services for every part of the state: Legal Services of Missouri, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and Mid-Missouri Legal Services. These services have a shared online library of free legal resources, available to anyone who has questions about housing issues. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.

Finding Your Local Courthouse

Eviction cases are typically filed with the circuit court of the county in which the rental property is located. The Missouri judicial system maintains an online directory with information on each county’s circuit court.

When to Hire an Experienced Lawyer

If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.

For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.

Also check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for Missouri lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.

More Information on Evictions and Terminations

For more articles on the subject, see the Evictions and Terminations section of Nolo.com. If you want to learn about how tenant bankruptcy affects an eviction, see the Nolo article Bankrupt Tenants.

For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).

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