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Missouri has some of the nation's lowest eviction filing fees for landlords

Stacked sheets of paper are hung next to each other on a wall. One of them reads "Right to Counsel Contact Number." The other says "Behind on rent or utilities?"
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Signs about Kansas City's Right to Counsel Program and rental assistance are posted outside courtroom doors during eviction proceedings in the Jackson County Courthouse.

In Jackson County, the fee for a landlord to file for eviction is just $62. Researchers found that when filing fees are low, landlords are more likely to file evictions "serially" against the same tenant as a way to collect late rent — rather than as a last resort.

New research shows Missouri has among the lowest court fees for landlords to file for eviction in the nation — and that raising filing fees would reduce eviction rates.

In Missouri, the average cost for a landlord to file for eviction is $56, and is as low as $33 in some counties.

The fees vary widely across the country, and are set in often “arbitrary” ways, the researchers found, but with significant effects. Nationally, fees range from $15 to $350, and the average is $132.

“By raising filing fees at the local level, we could go a long way toward reducing eviction filings,” Henry Gomory, lead researcher on the Eviction Lab study, said at a presentation last week.

The researchers collected filing fee data from nearly every county across the country in 2018 and published their findings in the journal Housing Policy Debate last month.

When filing fees are low, they found, landlords are more likely to file evictions “serially” against the same tenant as a way to collect late rent. The study called serial eviction filing a “pernicious practice” that marks tenants’ records with an eviction filing, can increase their housing costs, and “increases the power that landlords have over their tenants.”

But when fees are high, landlords “make use of the court system less often,” Gomory said. Landlords then use eviction as a last-resort method to remove tenants rather than a way to repeatedly collect rent.

The effects of filing fees on eviction filings are larger in areas with a majority of Black residents, too, and raising the fees would benefit them most.

Even moderate increases in fees could significantly curb eviction rates. Increasing the filing fee by $100, researchers found, reduces the eviction rate by 2.25 percentage points, which would more than halve the eviction cases in the median neighborhood in their dataset (which had an eviction rate of 3.3%).

“These increases in residential stability would have their largest effects on Black renters,” they found, “helping to remedy the disproportionate levels of eviction experienced by this group.”

“If we compare the effects of filing fees to other known predictors of eviction practices, it’s sort of startling how large these effects are,” Gomory said.

The highest cost to file in the Midwest is in Minnesota, where the average cost to file is around $300. Among states adjacent to Missouri, the highest average is in Arkansas, where it is $165 in every county in the state.

“Although local politicians cannot easily improve the socioeconomic statuses of their city’s renters,” Gomory said, “they can achieve similar gains in residential stability by simply voting in their city council or state legislature to increase eviction filing fees.”

As federal COVID assistance has waned, evictions have begun increasing over the last year nationally. In the St. Louismetro area and Kansas City, the rate of eviction filings in the last year was slightly higher than the pre-pandemic average, according to Eviction Lab data.

Nearly one third of all St. Louis eviction filings came from the top 100 buildings from March 2022 to March 2023. In Kansas City, 38% of all eviction filings in that period came from the top 100 buildings.

This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and is a Report for America corps member.
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