State Senate votes to make squatting a criminal offense

Sunday, April 15, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Failure to vacate after receiving an eviction notice could soon be a criminal offense in Missouri.

On Thursday, the state Senate passed a bill that would make it a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine or six months in prison, if renters fail to move out or file a legal appeal within 10 days of receiving an eviction notice.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said it gives "teeth" to the eviction process against unlawful squatters who refused to leave.

"The problem is once you're given eviction notice, there's no incentive for a tenant to leave," Engler said.

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support in the Senate. Engler argued that his legislation does not deprive renters of any of their current rights. The eviction process will still take several months and renters can avoid the new criminal charges if they file an application for a trial de novo to appeal the eviction notice within 10 days of the judge's order.

Engler said he was careful not to go overboard in punishing delinquent renters, arguing that a $500 fine would likely be much less than several months of unpaid rent that most evictees owe.

The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives.

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