U City-based lawyer makes no apologies for giving tenants the boot
This story was commissioned by the River City Journalism Fund.
If you’re going to write about the eviction industry in St. Louis, then there is one person you absolutely have to mention: University City attorney Matthew Chase.
Not mentioning Chase, 53, in such a story would be akin to writing about the beer industry in St. Louis without mentioning Anheuser-Busch.
And like the suds giant before him, Chase has used automation, economies of scale and new technology to push himself to the top of his field.
Chase says he files around 450 eviction cases in a typical month in St. Louis area courtrooms and handles somewhere around 6,000 cases per year — or about 40 percent of the nearly 15,000 cases filed in the region.
While it’s difficult to verify these numbers, it’s clear that Chase is one of the busiest eviction attorneys in both St. Louis city and county and St. Charles County, as evidenced by the fact that many of the area’s biggest landlords have picked them as their go-to guy.
So what’s his secret?
Chase, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., explains that when he graduated from the Washington University School of Law in 2005, he had no clear idea where he wanted to go with his legal career — other than the fact he wanted to avoid handling divorce cases at all costs.
Over time, though, he began working a growing number of eviction cases while serving various real estate clients.
Up until five years ago, Chase says, he handled eviction cases pretty much like other attorneys in St. Louis.
“My differentiating fact up until 2018 was always, ‘I’m going to do it faster, I try to be more efficient, I try to be reachable,’” he says. “And, price-wise, I'm competitive.”
But in that year he had an epiphany of sorts: He would hire someone to help him build a web portal focused on evictions, automating many functions and turning it into a virtual assembly line.
“There truly is nothing like it in the country,” he says. “It enables me to handle a much larger volume than one lawyer might be able to handle because everything to a certain extent is automated …. Because with the exception of the lawsuit itself, everything is automatically generated and works just fine that way.”
Chase isn’t known just for his web portal. He is also the content creator for a YouTube channel that offers advice to landlords around the country on how to deal with problem tenants and, if need be, kick them out if they fail to pay their rent.
‘I’m going to do it faster, I try to be more efficient, I try to be reachable, and, price-wise, I'm competitive.”University City-based attorney Matthew Chase
A video that Chase created in August 2021 caused something of a stir when comedian John Oliver played a clip of it nearly a year later on his HBO show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
In the video, Chases is shown instructing his audience not to tell tenants about the federal eviction moratorium then in effect if they didn’t know about it already.
"F— them,” Chase says. “F— them all!”
Oliver, pretending to be aghast, stops the clip and stares into the camera.
“OK, first, that is definitely the angriest I’ve seen anyone wearing a Rush hat,” the comic says. “Second, there is no doubt that that man at some point in his life was kicked out of a youth soccer game.”
Eighteen months later, Chase laughs about the incident, though he still nurses a grudge against Oliver.
“His writers are funny guys,” Chase says. “He’s a f—ing idiot. He’s a Communist.”
In person, Chase can be as bombastic and angry as he appears in his videos. But he’s also a self-aware person with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor.
“Looking at (the video), it was fun,” he says. “And I come across as an a—. No doubt! And I did come across as an a—. Whatever. I’m obnoxious. I’m an obnoxious guy. I openly will say what’s on my mind with no filter. I have to try to rein it in because it offends some people. I generally don’t care who I offend, except my clients. I don’t want to offend my clients.”
Chase tries to rein it in when it comes to the defendants he meets in court. But he also admits to being brutally honest with them.
“Sometimes a defendant will say, ‘You know, we had this happen and that happen. You know, we got sick, lost our job, and this and that.’ And I say ‘I empathize, I sympathize.’”
Seated behind his desk, Chase leans forward to emphasize the next point, a foundational fact that undergirds every single thing he does as an eviction lawyer.
“But the reality is the law doesn’t care,” he says. “And I’m not trying to say something mean. But the reality is my client wants their money, or they want their place back. We're willing to work with you this far. With some of my clients, ‘work with you’ means pay it all in 10 days or go to trial, usually the following week.”
Chase has lots of opinions, and he’s eager to share them. It's as if they’re spring-loaded in his brain and they pop out on their own volition.
“Nobody will ever, ever in a million years will convince me that that election was not stolen.”University City-based attorney Matthew Chase on the 2020 Presidential Election
Face masks? “In retrospect everybody who has two f—ing brain cells to rub together knows the masks were b———t, and in fact cause problems.”
The Covid vaccines? “The shot is questionable, and I’m not an anti-vaxxer.”
The 2020 election? “Nobody will ever, ever in a million years will convince me that that election was not stolen.”
As he speaks, Chase might be Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” with his big “always be closing” speech, or Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men,” with his epic “you can’t handle the truth” rant.
All three men are self-styled truth tellers eager to set the world straight with a dose of reality. They’re blunt-talkers willing to dispense truths that are harsh and flinthard, delivered with all the subtlety of a two-ton wrecking ball smashing into a brick wall.
Chase’s version of truth-seeking, however, has led him deep into populist politics. He greets an unexpected visitor with a red “Keep America Great” trucker hat on his head, and to enter his office you must cross under a sign above the door that reads: “Trump won. I know it. You know it.”
Chase describes himself as a big believer in fiscal responsibility. And he wishes a lot of the tenants he deals with would adopt such a belief system as well.
“This is going to sound mean,” he says, “but I’m telling you this is the truth. They are buying weed. They are buying their nails. They are buying their hair weaves. That sounds ethnically prejudiced. But the reality is everything comes before the rent. So you need fiscal responsibility.”
Chase pauses to let those words sink in, then follows with the kicker.
“Eighty to 90% of my cases would never happen if there is a culture of fiscal responsibility.”
For more on the River City Journalism Fund, which provided funding for this project and seeks to support local journalism in St. Louis, please see rcjf.org.