I recently sat down with Matthew Chase, an eviction attorney, because he and his firm process hundreds of eviction cases each year. If there is anyone who knows Missouri Eviction law and the Judges it is Matthew Chase. I learned a number of things, and how to win in court was certainly one of the topics of discussion.
Working with a number of other attorneys in the past, I found that winning an eviction case is not always an easy task. During the conversation, I was able to conclude there are three things that are the biggest reasons that Real Estate Investors lose eviction case
- They don’t display emotional control as a witness in the courtroom.
- They come to court unprepared without documentation to support their case.
- They do not have good communication with their attorney.
Matthew was able to answer a number of questions for me that many investors have been asking me.
What is one recent case that you won? Why did you win? What did the Investor do or provide that helped you win the case?
In a recent trial, one of about five in the last couple of weeks, my client was simply enormously well prepared, and also when the defendant was testifying, she stayed quiet and respectful.
You all have been in trials where the ill-mannered, inappropriately dressed, foul-mouthed tenants make faces and sigh and fidget when you’ve testified about the rent owed and the tenant’s failure to report the myriad alleged problems with the house.
However, sadly, too many landlords tend towards such bad courtroom behavior. My best advice is keep it all in check (emotionally). This is simply business, but more importantly, this is a court of law.
Pretend that the judge on the bench before you is Judge Chamberlain Haller (played by Fred Gwynne), presiding over the trial of “My Cousin Vinny.” You’ve all seen the movie. “Mr. Gambini, this is not the appropriate forum to be cavalier…” No matter who the judge is, picture Judge Haller. You’ll behave perfectly.
What are some of the “headline style changes” in law that have gone into effect, in Missouri, as it relates to the Single Family Home Community (i.e. Investors, Property Managers and Real Estate Agents) in the last year?
Many changes in the law occurred back in 2014, including getting rid of the Trial de Novo process, including other items. Some have been rectified, at the beginning of this year, and we are actively working on others.
One recent change is the requirement, now, that landlords maintain a separate security deposit account, and along with that, a stricter interpretation of the security deposit refund procedure, meaning landlords must really be on top of their game when tenants vacate, in order to avoid liability and judgments after move-out.
What types of communication should a great attorney be providing as it relates to an eviction case?
The most common positive I get is, “wow, I could never get hold of my prior eviction attorney,” or “my old attorney doesn’t even text.” Everything in the eviction law field is about processing files correctly and FAST.
Your attorney should be available to you when needed and, though of course, nobody should be working 24/7, reasonable response time to calls, emails or texts (all three) is mandatory. This is not a field of law for the cerebral attorneys who do fabulous legal research, but rather a place for attorneys who are top of their game at processing paperwork efficiently, correctly and expeditiously.
Your attorney should let you know when he is and isn’t available. (My clients know that sometimes a call will get an auto-text back, either saying, “I’m in court right now, will call back,” or “I’m out on my bicycle, will call you later unless it’s an emergency.”
What are the top reasons investors lose eviction cases?
In the occasional trial, the courts generally respond to landlords who are both well prepared, and of course whose case doesn’t appear to smell of the “slumlord” problem. In general, I can affirmatively say that trials we’ve held, where the landlord came well prepared, in particular with their full file including written and organized work order histories, tend to go better for them.
Even when we get (as our office normally does) a discovery order from the court, we often are surprised at trial by new allegations of failures by the landlord to make certain repairs. If landlords come prepared, this isn’t a death knell for their trial.
What is one thing investors can do to reduce the cost of an eviction?
Shop around. I’ve heard of some attorneys charging way more than others. Of course, capitalism is king, and one charges “what the market will bear.” Yet, there are a couple of eviction attorneys that demand their clients turn over any collections to the attorney, such as saying, once you turn over the file to me, you are forbidden to collect money.
Why? I get a file on the 15th, file the case on the 16th with the court (and yes, it should normally be a matter of course to file the next business day), and then on the 21st your tenant comes in with some or all of the money. Those attorneys would have you turn those folks away.
Why? Because they keep 30% of the rent, and smile to their customers that they are doing this. Your attorney should be focused on evicting, not maximizing their bottom line.
Seek an attorney who does not do collections in house. While the Bar does not consider it in any way a conflict of interest, you should deem it so.
How soon/quick should an eviction be filed, and why is quick filing important?
As said above, your attorney should be filing cases within one or two business days. It is easy enough to find out how fast your attorney is filing without asking them. Just go on CaseNet and look at a few of their cases.
In answering this question, I’m looking at a case that was emailed to me by my client on August 23rd. I filed it on the 24th. Yet, the “case initiation” clerks in St Louis County did not click “accept” on the case until the 29th, however when they did that and processed everything, it shows as filed on the 24th, the date I filed it.
Then, the summons shows as generated on the 30th. My client can look at the “docket entries” tab on the case and see that I filed the case one business day after they emailed it to me. If your attorney is not filing expeditiously, which is sadly often the case, find a new attorney.
Your guy may be the best, smartest and savviest attorney out there, but in this area of law, being fast and accurate are the most important traits in 99.9% of cases. It’s all about evicting, and that means getting on the docket as quickly as possible.
For more information contact Matthew Chase at 314-591-7300
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Here is my primer and general intro to Landlord-Tenant law in Missouri: