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Number of new eviction cases filed is down for now, but increase expected

Jackson County Courthouse
Posted at 6:14 AM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 08:01:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rita Slavens has been living in her Midtown apartment for about six years.

It's her "little corner of the world," but she acknowledges it's not perfect.

"This is where water was just dripping like crazy," Slavens said, walking the 41 Action News I-Team through her kitchen.

Over the years, Slavens has complained about water leaking from the ceiling. The property manager confirmed at least one work order for the problem back in 2018.

More recent leakage left damage in her kitchen and two bathrooms.

"It was coming from the vent, and if you can see, all that's buckling," Slavens said, pointing to the wall and ceiling in one of the bathrooms.

Despite the issues, Slavens said she tries to pay her rent, but she had fallen behind before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic made the situation even worse for the self-employed massage therapist.

Rita Slavens
Slavens had fallen behind on rent before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic exacerbated her situation.

Her industry completely shut down.

The entirety of her stimulus check went towards rent.

"I freaked out. I was like, what am I going to do, what am I going to do?" she said.

On March 30, attorneys for her landlord filed an eviction case against Slavens.

"It's very scary. Are you kidding? I have these dreams thinking they're going to come and put a notice on my door and say you've got to be out of here in 24 hours," she said.

It's a fear shared by many tenants since Jackson County's eviction moratorium expired at the end of May.

"Everybody lives so close to the brink, so if something as tragic as the COVID epidemic comes along, they just don't have the resources to fall back on," Jane Worley, the supervising attorney of the housing team at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, said.

The 41 Action News I-Team requested data from the 16th Circuit Court to see if there has been an uptick in eviction cases filed in Jackson County since the moratorium expired on May 31.

In June 2019 there were 738 eviction cases filed, compared to 252 in June 2020.

Data from May 2019 shows 834 cases filed, while in May of this year there were 234.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby, President of the KC Regional Housing Alliance, attributes the low number to the fact that the pandemic ushered in funding to help tenants.

For example, the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund provided more than $10 million to organizations in the metro, with at least $1.38 million going directly to housing support.

Another example is the $1 million from the CARES Act recently allotted to Northland Neighborhoods, Inc. to help families with rent and mortgage payments.

"A lot of the other housing providers I'm talking to, they're upwards of 80 or 90 percent of having their tenants pay the rent," Johnson-Cosby said. "And if they're not paying it, they're working out some kind of payment plan."

She emphasized the importance of communication between tenants and landlords when rent payment issues arise.

"We don't want to have to find new tenants or evict someone, and so it's always in everyone's best interest to work with the tenant and the landlord you currently have," Johnson-Cosby said.

Still, experts around the country fear evictions will increase, especially as federal protections expire at the end of July.

That anxiety is in the air at the Jackson County Courthouse.

"One man said 'not yet.' That was his answer to my question of are you a tenant being evicted. He said 'not yet,' and I saw that kind of look on several people's faces," Worley of Legal Aid said.

Slavens' eviction is dismissed for now. Her property is covered by the CARES Act until July 25.

"I'm not trying to get away with anything. I'm trying to pay," she said.

In the meantime, her landlord said they're going to fix the leakage problems.

North Terrace Property Management, which manages her building, also said late fees on rent were waived amid the pandemic. The company allowed residents to pay half of their rent in April and May and defer the rest of the payments for up to three months. The president said tenants had to reach out to set up alternative payment programs.

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