Judge Youngs pushes eviction moratorium to March, but KC Tenants say more needs to be done

Kc Tenants Jan 7 Zero Eviction January Action Chase Castor 10

KC Tenants activists march to the Jackson County Courthouse to shut down eviction court proceedings. // Photo by Chase Castor

Today, Judge Dale Youngs extended a September order filed by his predecessor to temporarily halt residential evictions. The original order stood from Sept. 24 to Dec. 31, 2020. Youngs extended that order until March 31. While this extension is a huge deal in regards to evictions occurring during a pandemic in the middle of winter, it has not actually prevented evictions from taking place. 

Because of the specifics of that order, landlords may still file to evict tenants unless the tenant has already filed an executed copy of a declaration form that temporarily halts their eviction. If the tenant does not file the declaration form, or the tenant is not covered by the order, a landlord can submit a verification form that allows them to evict the tenant regardless of the halt on evictions. 

The Administrative Order has not done much to stop evictions, and has allowed the process to be so obfuscated that unless tenants file that single, relatively unpublicized form, their landlord is still allowed to put tenants’ lives at risk. KC Tenants argues that these filings are a misinterpretation of the original CDC order. In September of 2020, KC Tenants filed a lawsuit against the circuit court in regards to the court’s interpretation of that order. The federal judge hearing that case, Judge Howard Sachs, ruled that the administrative order is consistent with the CDC order.  

So while the extended order does continue that temporary halt on evictions, KC Tenants is showing the city that the order is not enough. Under that Administrative Order, 491 evictions took place and Jackson County courts heard 1,856 cases. 

KC Tenants is calling on Judge Youngs to extend the Jan. 11 order that ended summons, hearings, and writs through Jan. 24. 

“Presiding Judge Youngs has the authority and the moral responsibility to end evictions,” Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, wrote in a press release. “He proved on January 11 that he does indeed have the authority to end evictions, contradicting prior statements made by the 16th Circuit Court. Presiding Judge Youngs’ predecessor David M. Byrn ended evictions in March 2020, and Youngs’ counterpart in St. Louis has ended all evictions throughout the pandemic. Youngs can and must keep eviction Court closed.”

Youngs has already truly stopped evictions for over two weeks in January. It is evident that the extension of the September order is not as effective or beneficial for tenants as the January order, and will result in more evictions unless action is taken. 

“Judge Youngs: I have a message for you. This is a very serious matter,” said Roslyn Wilson, a tenant facing eviction in Jackson County. “If I were you, I know in my heart I could not sign any papers to have people evicted knowing what will happen to them in this pandemic. Keep in mind two unhoused people have died on the streets of Kansas City in the last few months alone. I don’t want to be a third one. I hope you can find it in your heart to reconsider. Judge, you need to end evictions to save my life.” 

There are 1,592 cases that could result in eviction in Jackson County on the docket in the coming weeks: 892 in January and 700 in February. Since the CDC order is so confusing and leaves large loopholes by which landlords can still file evictions, many of those people in the coming hearings will not be protected by this new order. 

There have already been two unhoused people that have died in Kansas City during the January cold. While these deaths were not related to recent evictions, the harsh conditions under which these people died are similar to the conditions that many recently evicted people will face. More evictions would mean more people would be subjected to the harsh weather and be more at risk during the pandemic—leaving them to suffer or die as a result of being recently displaced. KC Tenants notes that it is for these reasons that all evictions are a death sentence. 

That is unacceptable to KC Tenants, and the group has promised that if evictions proceed in the coming weeks, they will take action to end them. Actions that the group has previously taken include blocking the doors to the courthouse buildings, hanging a banner from a highway bridge, and protesting outside judges’ houses. All of these actions were also taken during KC Tenants’ Zero Eviction January campaign, which resulted in the Jan. 11 win. KC Tenants has already stopped 717 evictions in this month alone from their direct action tactics.

[Update 1/27/21: The Public Information Officer of the 16th Judicial Court reached out to emphasize that, according to the judge’s interpretations, Youngs believes that they are abiding by the letter of the law. Clearly, that is the point of several contentions in this matter, including the question of what is legally acceptable vs. what should be acceptable toward human beings in our community. We are denoting that the 16th Court has declared their opposition to the group whose purpose is protesting the 16th Court’s interpretations of the law.]

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