The Neighborhood and Housing Services Department of Kansas City, along with facilitators from Legal Aid of Western Missouri will hold the first session of Landlord/Tenant University.

The initiative provides information to renters and landlords alike. Landlord/Tenant University will be held on Thursday, Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to noon at the KC Kings Conference Room, 4400 Blue Pkwy. While in-person seating is limited due to COVID-19, the training session will also be streamed via Zoom.

Nearly 46% of Kansas City residents rent their homes, and 44% of those are “cost burdened,” meaning the household spends over 30% of its income on rent.

“The university will focus on a myriad of housing and neighborhood issues, including fair housing practices, housing code enforcement, the Healthy Homes Initiative, plus other common neighborhood concerns like illegal dumping,” coordinator Shawn Kirkwood said. “During this initial session of Landlord/Tenant University, much of the emphasis will be on the newly-formed Tenant Bill of Rights and what it means to both landlords and tenants.”

The Tenant Bill of Rights was established with the passing of Resolution No. 190934 in December 2019.

The ordinance cited discrimination in the rental market based on race, gender, sexuality, mental and physical ability, immigration status and country of origin as barriers for potential renters. The effects of eviction listed include exhibiting higher rates of depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and physical health problems.

Some of those health problems in substandard housing stem from mold, lack of heat, inadequate ventilation, infestations and lead, which often exacerbate chronic illnesses.

“Our entire community should be proud of our KC Tenants Rights package and what it will mean for the nearly half of all Kansas Citians who rent their homes,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said after it was adopted. “This process is an outstanding example of how legislating should always be done: through crafting smart and deliberate policy, providing ample opportunity for community input, and compromising to bring both tenants and landlords to the table.”

The Tenant Bill of Rights established the right to safe and accessible housing; freedom from discrimination and retaliation; right to fair compensation and restorative justice; right to organize and bargain; right to safe, healthy, accessible and truly affordable housing; right to privacy and self-determination; and the right to justice and access to fair, equitable treatment under the law.

The ordinance amended the city’s Code of Ordinances to create a Rental Housing Assistance Operating Unit, modify healthy homes enforcement, expand housing discrimination enforcement, authorize the request for water usage reports and set out the responsibilities of the Rental Housing Assistance Operating Unit.

Back in March, Jackson County Chief Judge David Byrn implemented a temporary moratorium on enforcing evictions. Byrne signed an extension to that order on May 7, which expired on May 31.

On June 1, eviction proceedings began in person and by conference call in Jackson County.

A federal moratorium under the CARES Act required landlords who received federal housing assistance or federal financing to suspend evictions for nonpayment or any other reason until after August 24, 2020. This is 120 days after enactment, plus an additional 30 days for required notice to be provided.

However, the moratorium does not absolve tenants of their legal responsibilities to pay rent. Tenants who do not pay rent during the eviction grace period may still face financial and legal liabilities, including eviction, after the moratorium ends.

On average, before the pandemic and eviction proceeding moratoriums, Jackson County filed approximately 34 formal evictions per business day on average.

The expanded unemployment benefit, $600 extra per week, expired on July 31.

On Monday, July 27, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR) Division of Employment Security (DES) reported that it has processed over $3.4 billion in unemployment benefit payments to more than 490,000 unemployed residents since March.

There has been a 254% increase in initial claims compared to all the initial claims processed in 2019.

On Thursday and Friday July 30 and 31, leaders and allies of KC Tenants rallied to end evictions, shutting down courts by disrupting eviction proceedings.

“I don’t deserve to have the threat of eviction hanging over my head, when I haven’t done anything wrong, during a global pandemic, no one does,” said KC Tenants leader Marelia Smith, who is facing eviction. “If my landlord forces me out of my home, where will I go? Where will I live? I know what it feels like to have my life fall apart like that. It crushes the soul. It sucks the life out of a person.”

The Kansas City Eviction Project published findings that Jackson County landlords have filed 1,181 evictions since March.

The 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County issued a statement regarding last week’s interruption. 

“At this time, our community is subject to a variety of executive and other orders which dictate the gradual reopening of society, including businesses, government, and the courts,” the statement said. “As a part of the judicial branch of our government, and under these circumstances, our Court is compelled to protect the rights of all parties in cases filed here, by enforcing the law through procedures that are currently in place. If the executive or legislative branches of government decide to change those existing laws or procedures, the Court will enforce and give effect to those new laws and procedures, too.”

The court reminded members of the public of their right to contact their elected officials, gather, and demand action when they believe it is necessary to protect their rights; however, those who interrupted court proceedings interfered with the rights of other parties involved.