How to Avoid Eviction, A Guide to Tenant Rights in Kansas City

Gina Chiala, executive director and senior counsel for the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, talks about the importance of an order that would establish tenants' right to an attorney at city hall in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday 02 December 2021.

Gina Chiala, executive director and senior counsel for the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, talks about the importance of an order that would establish tenants’ right to an attorney at city hall in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday 02 December 2021.

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Residents of the Bakers Corner and Muehlebach apartments in Volker received a nasty surprise on Tuesday, November 30 when they learned that they would soon be leaving their homes.

According to a letter obtained by The Star, the buildings were purchased by The Tiehen Group, Inc., a property management company that plans to renovate the buildings and raise rents “dramatically.” Some residents have a little over 60 days to move out.

The trap ? This move is completely legal, which means that tenants have little recourse against the decision of their new owner. Organizers say departure notices are a common problem with serious consequences for low-income Kansas citizens. Here’s what to know about them and how to respond.

What is a notice of departure?

A notice of departure is a written declaration stating that a person must leave their place of residence within a certain period of time. If tenants do not comply with this notice, their landlord can sue for eviction against them. While a notice of departure is not technically an eviction letter, it often has the same effect: forcing a tenant to find another place to live.

“Most people would consider this an eviction notice,” said Gina Chiala, executive director and staff lawyer for the nonprofit legal aid association Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom. “If you don’t go out and the notice is legal, then they can sue you and force you out.”

There are three main types of release notices:

  • Notice of Lease Breach: These occur when a landlord claims a tenant has violated the terms of their rental agreement.

  • 30-day notice on monthly leases: Since monthly leases do not provide any guarantee of long-term residence, these notices can be issued at any time and for any reason, except for reasons protected by federal civil rights laws.

  • Notice of termination on longer leases: Some longer-term leases include clauses that allow landlords to “break” leases at any time, without allowing tenants to do the same.

What should I do if I receive a departure notice?

The first step is to check if the review is valid. Notices should comply with the law and allow an appropriate time frame for tenants to vacate the property. The Heartland Center has an online toolkit you can use to determine the validity of the letter.

If the notice is NOT valid: You may be able to challenge an invalid notice in court. Grounds for challenging a notice include:

  • The notice does not indicate the appropriate time frame for your move.

  • The notice claims you violated your lease, but you disagree.

  • You believe that the notice was issued because of your race, sex, religion or other category of identity protected by federal law.

If the notice IS valid: You have the choice either to leave your accommodation within the time limit, or to sue your landlord yourself. If you choose the latter, you will also need legal representation.

“You’re going to need a lawyer to discuss legal concepts sophisticated enough to be able to meet this challenge,” Chiala told The Star. Currently, tenants are uncertain of their representation in court when they fight to stay in their homes – something local activists are working to change.

Challenging an invalid review and combating a valid review both require legal assistance. Three organizations in the Kansas City area provide legal services to tenants: the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and the Tenant Representation Initiative of UMKC Law School. Contacting one of these groups is the next step if you want to stay at home.

Do I have to move within the timeframe indicated on the notice of departure?

No. Your landlord cannot physically force you to leave your home without a court ruling. Instead, the timeframe stated on a notice of departure is the amount of time you have before your landlord can legally sue you. This period depends on the type of notice issued.

  • Lease violation notices give tenants 10 days to move out.

  • 30-day notices allow monthly tenants to move a full 30-day rental period. For example, a notice issued in mid-July must allow tenants to stay until August 31.

  • Termination notices for longer leases typically give tenants 30 days to move out, but the time frame depends on the specific terms of the lease.

If you don’t move within that time, your landlord will likely sue you for eviction. These court cases are very difficult to win without legal representation. But even if you can get a lawyer, Chiala says, the most common solution is a compromise that always ends up taking you out of the property.

“We will try to work with the landlord’s lawyer and try to get them to give the tenant a reasonable time to find new accommodation,” she said. “If it’s a discharge notice and it’s valid, you’re talking about having to change an owner’s mind, which is pretty difficult. “

In general, tenants have very little recourse against a landlord’s decision to sell or renovate a property. Monthly leases and some longer term leases also allow landlords to fire tenants at any time for any reason. If your landlord has issued the notice to legally vacate, it is very unlikely that you will be able to stay in your accommodation.

What are the tenants’ rights?

The short answer: not a lot.

“Missouri is one of the worst states in the country for renting,” said Wilson Vance, organizer of the KC Tenants housing justice group. “You can’t do anything. You just have to go out. “

In Kansas City, landlords aren’t allowed to evict tenants in retaliation for asking for repairs to their building or organizing collectively with other tenants. However, the rest of the state does not even offer these minimum protections.

“Missouri has no additional rights other than those granted to us at the federal level,” Vance said. His organization, along with the Heartland Center, believe the ingrained power imbalance between tenants and landlords is part of what makes the system so hostile to those facing eviction.

“There is no real negotiation when you need housing and housing is scarce,” Chiala said. “What we really need is for tenants to organize and gain more power, not just in Kansas City, but across the state.”

Do you have more questions about tenant rights or housing justice in Kansas City and beyond? Ask our service journalism team at [email protected] Or fill out the form below:

Natalie Wallington is a reporter on The Star’s Helpdesk covering policies, government programs, community resources, and more. His journalistic work has previously appeared in the Washington Post, Audubon Magazine, Popular Science, VICE News and elsewhere.

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