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Missouri legislature passes eviction moratorium ban as part of property rights bill

A crumbling building owned by St. Louis’ Land Reutilization Authority sits behind a lot where the Old North St. Louis Restoration group is hoping to build homes on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in north St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A north St. Louis building owned by St. Louis’ Land Reutilization Authority sits crumbling in November 2022. Legislation passed Thursday authorizes the creation of a land bank in St. Louis County and other counties across Missouri.

The Missouri legislature has passed a bill that prohibits municipalities and other local governments from creating and enforcing any eviction moratoriums unless they are authorized by state law.

Members of the House of Representatives voted 145-1 Thursday to pass the legislation. Because it has already gone through the Senate, the bill now goes to Gov. Mike Parson.

Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill.

“We can't anticipate the kinds of disasters that could require some extraordinary circumstance, extraordinary rules,” Burnett said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments across the state, including those of Kansas City and St. Louis, implemented moratoriums that stopped landlords from evicting tenants due to nonpayment of rent.

Speaking on his bill, Rep. Chris Brown, R-Kansas City, said he believes this is the third year that the House has passed an eviction moratorium bill out of its chamber.

Rep. Jamie Johnson, D-Kansas City, said while she personally dislikes the policy, she has heard from several of her constituents who are landlords and want the bill.

“I do understand their plight, I do understand what they went through during COVID. And how scary it was for them as investors. So, I will be supporting this policy,” Johnson said.

The measure is just one of those in the legislation dealing with property and property rights, many of which have the support of both parties.

One of the issues with strong bipartisan support is legislation allowing St. Louis County and other counties to establish a land bank.

Land banks allow for public entities to acquire, manage and develop vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties.

“It sets up tools and a framework to more efficiently clean up dilapidated properties within the area,” Brown said.

Multiple House Democrats spoke in favor of the legislation, including Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale. Windham spoke about his great-grandmother, who lived next to a building that was falling apart.

“Everyday, she walked out of her house that she invested her whole life in, she had to walk outside and see derelict, decrepit buildings,” Windham said. “And that's not fair to her. That's not fair to the community. And not only is it not fair, it does damage to the community.”

Also included in the extensive bill is a state tax credit program aimed at rehabilitating historic buildings.

“The impact of the historic tax credits cannot be overlooked. It applies to all parts of the state, but in particular, in particular for the AT&T Tower and the Railway Exchange Building in downtown St. Louis,” Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, said.

Another measure related to property is new penalties associated with squatting.

Under the new provision, property owners would be allowed to petition a local court to remove unlawful occupants.

It also creates a Class A misdemeanor penalty for squatting.

The penalty was originally drafted to be a felony charge, but a Senate amendment sponsored by Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, lowered it.

“We don't believe that squatting should be a felony, because these people are squatting primarily because the state of Missouri has a homeless problem,” Washington said. “And so, if they're homeless and they now have a felony for squatting as well, that's going to be harder for them.”

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, had two of his provisions make it into the bill.

One of them bars local governments from forcing nonprofits and churches to install and pay for electric vehicle charging stations.

Under the original bill sponsored by Murphy, the ban would have applied to business as well.

“What we did is we compromised this down to the fact that it will no longer apply to nonprofits and churches. I think everybody should be able to support that,” Murphy said.

The legislation includes a bill from Murphy and Sen. Nick Schroer, R-Defiance, that expands the possibility of chicken ownership.

Through the legislation, homeowner associations would be unable to prevent people from owning and pasturing up to six chickens, as long as the property is at least two-tenths of an acre in size.

Associations would be able to place a ban on roosters.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.