Know your renting rights: How the law protects tenants in Missouri and Kansas
The landlord-tenant relationship can be fertile ground for disputes that can result in eviction. Many renters may not realize there are laws and regulations that protect them, and they vary from state to state.
Rosa Edwards of learned about her new landlord VineBrook Homes through an eviction notice from the company.
The former owner of her St. Louis County, Missouri rental home sold it to the Ohio-based company and —unbeknownst to her — she had fallen behind on payments to the company. For months after, she fought to pay the a number of fees not included in her original rent.
“After that every month they came and stuck eviction notices on our front door,” Edwards said.
For a recent investigation into VineBrook Homes, a company that owns and manages more than 27,000 properties around the country, the Midwest Newsroom talked with tenants like Edwards frustrated by interactions with landlords. After the story aired and was published, we heard from even more renters who told similar stories.
VineBrook tenants are not alone in their frustrations. According to the Pew Research Center, about 36% of people living in the United States are renters. While it’s hard to know how many landlord-tenant disputes take place, the high number of renters in the country means these disputes are not going away.
What rights to renters have? Laws vary from state to state and city to city.
Here's what we found in four Midwest states.
Missouri law requires landlords provide safe, sanitary and livable housing conditions to tenants and provides tenants with several rights.
According to Missouri Landlord-Tenant law, landlords must:
- make properties habitable before tenants move in
- make and pay for repairs due to ordinary wear and tear
- refrain from turning off a tenant’s water, electricity or gas
- provide written notice to tenants when ownership of the property is transferred to a new landlord
- not unlawfully discriminate
Under the same law, landlords are barred from entering a residence without permission, charging late fees not included in the lease and may not evict a tenant from their home without a court order.
In Missouri, court dates for eviction filings are typically scheduled roughly four weeks after an eviction is filed. If a tenant does not appear for the court date, judges enter a default judgment, meaning the tenants will be evicted.
This city provides tenants with additional protections not offered by the state of Missouri. KC Tenants, a tenant’s rights organization operating in Kansas City, drafted the Tenant Bill of Rights, which the city council passed in 2019.
“The reality is that tenants in Missouri are some of the least protected tenants in the country,” said KC Tenants founding Director Tara Raghuveer. “The state law is extremely unfavorable to tenants and extremely favorable to their landlords.”
Among a number of provisions, the bill requires that:
- the city establish a division for housing and community development
- landlords provide every tenant with the Tenant’s Bill of Rights
- there is no discrimination based on prior arrest convictions or evictions
Read the full Kansas City, Missouri Tenant Bill of Rights here.
A resolution passed by the Kansas City City Council in June 2022 ensured tenants free legal counsel for housing issues.
For more, visit kctenants.org.
Kennedy Moehrs Gardner, an eviction defense staff attorney with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, said tenants in St. Louis mostly have the same rights as Missourians who live outside the city.
However, she said one additional safeguard St. Louis City tenants have is protection from rental discrimination based on a person’s source of income. Landlords may not refuse to rent to a person if their source of income is lawful.
Moehrs Gardner said there is a push for a tenant bill of rights similar to Kansas City’s in St. Louis that, if enacted, would guarantee tenant’s right to counsel for housing issues and other “much needed” protections.
The Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act governs the renting of property in Nebraska. The act states that landlords must:
- keep the property in a safe and habitable condition
- keep common areas safe and clean
- maintain electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and appliances supplied by the landlord
- provide running water, reasonable amounts of hot water and reasonable heat
Tenants are entitled to have access to the property at the beginning of their lease and can sue the landlord for up to three months of rent and attorney’s fees if the landlord’s failure to deliver the property is willful and in bad faith.
If a landlord isn’t being compliant, tenants can demand compliance and potentially seek damages.
While larger cities such as Lincoln and Omaha have city departments that inspect rental properties, there are no city-specific ordinances that provide protection beyond what state law mandates. Landlords in Omaha are required to register with the city, however.
Legal Aid of Nebraska has a guidebook that details the rights of landlords and tenants, as well as a walkthrough of the eviction process.
The Iowa Landlord and Tenant Act governs expectations of landlords and possible remedies to conflicts that may occur between the landlord and the tenant.
- follow building and housing codes
- make repairs to maintain the property
- provide garbage receptacles and garbage removal
- supply hot and cold water, unless the tenant pays the utility directly
- keep facilities and appliances in good working order
- follow building and housing codes
- dispose of garbage properly
- properly use appliances and facilities
- not damage the property on purpose
- avoid disturbing neighbors
If a landlord fails to perform comply with the law tenants may break their lease by giving notice. In some cases, tenants must give landlords time to fix problems. And, in some cases, tenants should contact a local housing inspector to document the problems.
For more, visit Iowa Legal Aid.
The Kansas Landlord and Tenant Act serves as a rulebook for both landlords and tenants, setting forth certain requirements both parties must fulfill once a lease is signed.
According to the act, landlords must:
- comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes affecting health and safety,
- provide maintenance and upkeep of common areas,
- maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, venting and air-conditioning,
- provide and maintain the grounds of the rental,
- and supply running water and a “reasonable” amount of hot water at all times.
Tenants are required to:
- comply with building and housing codes,
- keep premises as clean and safe as possible,
- remove trash and debris from rentals,
- safely operate and clean all plumbing, electrical, sanitary, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning appliances,
- and fix or pay for any damage to the rental.
Tenants seeking additional information can visit www.kansaslegalservices.org.
Ask for help
KC Tenants' Tara Raghuveer stressed the importance of tenants taking advantage of groups that provide legal help like her organization and Legal Services in Missouri and Kansas and Legal Aid in Iowa and Nebraska.
She said renter should considering forming a union — a tactic she said has earned tenants more protections in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Tenant unions have won some of these advances in the last couple of years, and if there’s going to be additional advancement in the future it's going to be contingent on tenants getting together and organizing into unions,” she said.
The Midwest Newsroom is an in-depth and investigative journalism collaboration including KCUR, St. Louis Public Radio, Iowa Public Radio, Nebraska Public Media and NPR.
Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.