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Illegal eviction – Lockout and utility shut-off


In Missouri, landlords must obtain a court order to evict tenants, and "self-help" evictions are prohibited. If illegally locked out, tenants have the right to seek assistance, regain access through a locksmith, and pursue legal action for damages.


Last updated 06/22/2023

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Unauthorized landlord actions

A landlord may not evict a tenant without a court order. Missouri prohibits “self-help” evictions by landlords. That means it is illegal for a landlord to change locks, remove doors, shut off utilities, or take any other action to force a tenant from their home. In fact, it is illegal for a landlord to even threaten “self-help” eviction. A landlord who wants to evict a tenant must file a lawsuit, obtain a judgment for possession, and request a sheriff remove the tenant from the property (e.g. execute the judgment for possession).

City of St. Louis tenant protections

The City of St. Louis enacted an ordinance that imposes criminal penalties on landlords who evict tenants without first obtaining a court order. This law allows the police to stop “self-help” evictions as they are happening and forbids landlords from collecting rent during the period that a tenant was illegally evicted. In addition, landlords can be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for up to 90 days.

Seeking help

Even if you don’t live in City of St. Louis, you can still call the police if your landlord is trying to lock you out. Tell the police officer that you are afraid for your safety and ask the police officer to tell your landlord to leave. Ask the police officer to keep the peace.

If your landlord illegally locks you out, you also have the right to call a locksmith and get back in. This is not “breaking and entering.” You have the legal right to possession of the premises because a lease is not just an agreement. A lease is also a transfer of the right to possession of the premises. By entering into a lease with you, your landlord conveys to you the right to possess the unit. This means your landlord has no right to possession of the unit unless you give it up or a judge gives it back to your landlord.

Rights for illegally evicted tenants

Tenants who have been illegally evicted have the right to file a civil lawsuit against their landlord for money damages caused by the illegal eviction.