Understanding Missouri Renters’ Rights

Renting a place to call home is a significant step that comes with legal rights and responsibilities. Understanding these rights is crucial for a smooth and secure living experience if you’re renting in Missouri. 

In this article, we’ll break down the key aspects of Missouri renters’ rights, giving you the knowledge to understand your legal rights. 

The Basics of Rental Agreements in Missouri

When renting a property in Missouri, you’ll typically sign a lease agreement, a legally binding contract outlining the terms and conditions of your tenancy. 

There are two main types of rental agreements: 

1. Periodic tenancies (month-to-month) and 

2. Fixed-term leases. 

It’s crucial to read and understand the lease before signing, as it will detail important information such as rent amount, due date, security deposit, maintenance responsibilities, and more.

Do Rental Agreements Need to Be In Writing In Missouri?

Missouri law does not require rental agreements to be in writing for residential properties. However, an informal, oral lease agreement will considered to be a month-to-month lease. 

In a month-to-month lease, the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease by providing proper notice. In Missouri, either party must give at least one month’s notice before the next rental period starts. 

For example, if you want to move out by the end of September, you should give notice by the end of August.

An oral lease for a term longer than one year is generally not enforceable under what is known as the “Statute of Frauds.” 

The Statute of Frauds is a legal principle that requires contracts, including leases for terms longer than one year, to be in writing to be enforceable.

This means that if you have an oral agreement for a lease term of one year or less, it may still be valid. However, if the lease term is for more than one year, it must be in writing to be legally enforceable.

Missouri Rental Agreement Notice Requirements

 In Missouri, tenant rights and notice requirements are governed by the Missouri Landlord-Tenant Laws. Here are some general guidelines regarding notice requirements for renters in Missouri:

1. Notice To Enter

A landlord must provide reasonable notice before entering a rental unit, except in cases of emergency. While the exact notice period is not specified in state law, it’s a good practice for landlords to provide at least 24 hours’ notice before entering a rental property.

2. Notice of Rent Increase

In Missouri, no state law specifies how much notice a landlord must provide before increasing the rent. However, if you have a month-to-month lease, the landlord can raise rent with only one month’s notice.

If you have a written lease agreement, the lease will outline the notice period required for rent increases. This will be stated in the terms of the lease agreement, so it’s essential for tenants to review their lease to understand the specific notice requirements.

3. Notice to Terminate the Lease (Month-To-Month)

If you are a tenant with a month-to-month rental agreement and wish to terminate your lease, you must provide written notice to your landlord. Thirty (30) days’ notice is required. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.060).

Similarly, your landlord must give you 30 days’ written notice if they intend to terminate your month-to-month lease.

4. Notice of Lease Termination ( A One-Year Fixed-Term Lease)

For a one-year lease, either the landlord or the tenant may terminate the lease by giving notice in writing of their intention to terminate the lease not less than sixty (60) days before the end of the lease. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.050).

Understanding Missouri’s Security Deposit Laws

A security deposit is a sum of money that a tenant provides to a landlord or property manager at the beginning of a lease agreement. 

This deposit serves as a form of financial protection for the landlord in case the tenant causes damage to the rental property, violates the lease terms, or fails to pay rent.

How Much Can a Missouri Landlord Charge For a Security Deposit?

In Missouri, a landlord cannot charge more than two months’ rent as a security deposit. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.300).

Does My Landlord Have to Hold My Security Deposit in a Separate Account?

Yes. In Missouri, the law requires all security deposits to be held by the landlord for the tenant in a bank, credit union, or depository institution insured by an agency of the federal government. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.300.2). 

Please note that landlords are not required to pay interest on security deposits in Missouri.

When Does a Missouri Landlord Have to Return a Security Deposit?

The law in Missouri requires a landlord to return a renter’s security deposit within thirty (30) days after the date of the termination of the lease. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.300.3). 

Within thirty (30) days, the landlord is required to either:

1. Return the full amount of the security deposit; or

2. Provide the tenant with a written itemized list of the damages for which the security deposit or any portion thereof is withheld, along with the security deposit balance.

The landlord must comply with this law by mailing the statement and any payment to the tenant’s last known address.

When Can a Missouri Landlord Keep a Renter’s Security Deposit?

The Missouri law allows a landlord to keep all or most of a renter’s security deposit on some occasions.

The law allows the landlord to deduct reasonable amounts from the security deposit for the following reasons:

1. Unpaid Rent: The landlord can keep a security deposit to address a tenant’s failure to pay rent as outlined in the rental agreement.

2. To Make Repairs: The landlord can keep a security deposit to restore the rental unit to its original condition at the start of the lease, excluding normal wear and tear. 

3. To Pay For Actual Damages From a Tenant Breaching The Lease: The landlord can keep a security deposit to compensate the landlord for actual damages resulting from the tenant’s insufficient notice to terminate the lease as required by law or the rental agreement. The landlord must reasonably try to minimize these damages. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.300.4). 

The law in Missouri requires the landlord to give the renter reasonable notice in writing of the date and time when the landlord will inspect the dwelling unit following the termination of the rental agreement to determine the amount of the security deposit to be withheld.

The tenant shall have the right to be present at the inspection of the dwelling unit at the time and date scheduled by the landlord.

What Can a Renter Do If The Landlord Refuses to Return The Security Deposit?

In Missouri, if the landlord wrongfully withholds all or any portion of the security deposit in violation of the law, the renter is entitled to recover double the amount wrongfully withheld.

Rent Withholding for Repairs: Understanding Tenant Rights in Missouri

Landlords in Missouri have a legal responsibility to maintain the property and perform necessary repairs to ensure the rental property meets specific habitability standards. This responsibility is referred to as the “implied warranty of habitability.”

Implied Warranty of Habitability

  • Landlords must provide tenants with a safe, livable, and habitable environment.
  • This includes ensuring that basic utilities (water, electricity, heating, etc.) are in working order, addressing structural issues, and maintaining essential facilities such as plumbing and sanitation.
  • Landlords should address repairs reasonably and promptly once the tenant notifies them.

If a landlord is not performing the necessary repairs, can a renter fix the problem and reduce their rent payment by the cost of the repairs? 

The answer is “Yes,” but only in very limited circumstances. 

In Missouri, renters have the right to make repairs and reduce the payments from the amount of rent owed, but only if the following conditions are satisfied:   

  • The tenant has lawfully resided on the premises for at least six months.
  • The tenant has paid the total rent owed during the six months. 
  • The tenant has not received any unaddressed violation notices from the landlord during the six months. 
  • The condition violates local housing or building codes.
  • The cost to rectify the condition is lower than three hundred dollars ($300) or one-half of the periodic rent (whichever is greater).
  • The maximum cost limit for correction is one month’s rent.

If a tenant can satisfy these requirements, they can make repairs on the property and withhold the repair expenses from rent. 

But, to do this, the law requires the renter to jump through more legal hoops. The tenant must do the following to take advantage of this law:

  • Provide Notice to Landlord: When tenants identify a qualifying condition, they must formally notify the landlord in writing about their intention to correct the issue at the landlord’s expense.
  • Wait for The Landlord’s Response: Upon receiving the tenant’s notice, the landlord is given a fourteen-day window to resolve the issue. If the condition poses an emergency, prompt correction is expected.
  • Tenant-Initiated Repair: If the landlord doesn’t address the issue within the stipulated time, tenants can proceed to do the repair competently. After completing the repair, tenants should provide the landlord with an itemized statement and valid receipts.
  • Cost Deduction: Tenants are entitled to deduct the actual and reasonable cost of the repair from their rent up to $300 or 1/2 of the monthly rent amount. 
  • If the landlord disputes the necessity of the repair within the notice period, tenants cannot proceed with the deduction unless they obtain written certification from a local municipal or government entity confirming the code violation.
  • Should the landlord fail to correct the condition even after certification or notice, tenants can undertake the repair as per the law. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.234).

When Can a Landlord Evict a Renter In Missouri?

In Missouri, a landlord cannot evict a renter without a court order. Missouri does not allow landlords to do “self-help evictions.” 

Here are some times when a landlord can lawfully evict a renter:

1. Non-Payment of Rent

If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord can initiate eviction. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.010).

If rent is overdue and the landlord has asked for payment but hasn’t received it, the landlord can file a verified petition in associate circuit court asking for an order to evict. 

No notice of eviction is required in Missouri. The law only requires the renter to be served with a copy of the eviction lawsuit that has been filed. 

(See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.020).

2. Lease Violations

If a tenant violates the terms of the lease agreement, the landlord can issue a written notice specifying the violation and giving the tenant a reasonable amount of time to remedy the violation or vacate the property. Common lease violations include unauthorized pets, excessive noise, or subletting without permission.

3. End of Lease Term

If a tenant’s lease has ended and they haven’t renewed it, the landlord can proceed with eviction if the tenant doesn’t vacate voluntarily. 

4. Illegal Activities

Missouri law states that the lease agreement becomes void if a tenant allows prohibited gambling equipment, illegal activities like running a brothel, or drug distribution to take place in a rented house, apartment, or building. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.020).

If a renter is engaged in illegal activity on the property, the landlord can then enter the property and take back possession using the same legal remedies as if the tenant were holding over their lease term.

Eviction Process for Unpaid Rent in Missouri

When rental payments become due, and the landlord requests payment from the tenant without receiving it, a legal process can be initiated in Missouri. Missouri’s eviction process law can be read in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 535.020.

This process allows the landlord to file a statement, supported by an affidavit, with an associate circuit judge in the county where the property is located. 

The statement should outline the rental agreement terms, the outstanding rent amount owed to the landlord, details of the demand for payment, and a description of the property being rented or leased.

It’s worth noting that the requirement for providing notice, as outlined in section 441.060, is not mandatory before filing the statement or seeking relief under this specific chapter. 

In response to the filed statement, the court clerk will issue a summons to the tenant and any occupants of the premises, individually named. 

The summons require them to appear before the judge on a specified date and provide reasons why possession of the property should not be returned to the landlord.

In situations involving unpaid rent, the landlord can include claims for other unpaid amounts alongside the rent, except property damages. 

These additional sums can be joined in the legal action, irrespective of how they are named or defined in the lease. 

While the process described above involves the filing of a statement before an associate circuit judge, it’s possible for local circuit court rules to be established that centralize the filing of such cases. 

Click Here For a Detailed Explanation of Missouri’s Eviction Process

Missouri’s Illegal Eviction Protections

Missouri has legal protections in place to prevent illegal evictions. 

These protections ensure that landlords follow proper procedures and respect tenants’ rights when seeking to evict them. 

In Missouri, an illegal eviction can encompass actions such as forcibly removing a tenant, changing locks, shutting off utilities, or engaging in other self-help measures without obtaining a court order. (See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 441.233).

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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