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Steep increase in rental rates forcing some St. Louisans out of their homes

The costs are putting even good tenants in bad situations.

ST. LOUIS — A bathroom remodel can be stressful--especially a surprise bathroom remodel like Quantez Johnson walked into one day in his Tower Grove apartment.

“In my lease, they're supposed to give me 24-hour notice. They didn't. They never gave me any notice. They're just coming up in my apartment,” said Johnson.

It's just one of the headaches Johnson's been dealing with as the new owners of the building where he’s lived for nearly five years renovate the place—and try to kick him out.

“They decided to try to what we think is move everybody out so that they can raise the rents and bring other people,” said Kennedy Moehrs Gardner, Johnson’s eviction defense coordinator at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.

“Also, they tried to get them all to vacate the premises as well by giving them 30-day notices to vacate,” said Gardner. “Fortunately, he hasn't been behind on his rent at all, so there's really no reason for them to be able to evict him other than them just trying to do that. But he is having trouble finding a place within his price range in the area that he wants to be in now.”

Gardner says they’re still working through the legality of Johnson’s case, but he’s just one of thousands of people in the St. Louis area dealing with the cost of rising rents, in some cases squeezing them out.

5 On Your Side analyzed the Zillow Observed Rent Index for St. Louis. It shows rental prices are up nearly 8% from 2020—and that's after an annual rise of about 3% for the five years prior.

“It's incredible how much the rents in St. Louis have gone up,” said TJ Pearson, an eviction defense attorney with EHOC.

Put into real terms: if you pay $900 per month in rent, that equates to $10,800 per year. With an 8% increase, that’s $972 per month and $11,664 per year—the difference almost as much as paying for an extra month of rent in the year.

In some cases, especially ones in which developers are “flipping” affordable properties to create higher-end units, the rent can double—and that’s not something many people can afford, said Pearson.

“There are so many people from here that are going to be priced out that have families here,” said Pearson. “It's definitely changing the demographics of the city, and it's going to be a long-term impact for sure.”

While rising rent can often force tenants out, Pearson said it’s been a busy year overall when it comes to helping people stay in their homes. Sometimes it’s a parent who must choose between paying rent, going to work, and hiring childcare; some tenants are dealing with landlords who didn’t fully understand the eviction moratorium or other renters protections; many clients are still without work or making less money than pre-pandemic.

“The emotions coming in are always really intense, and that's one of the hardest parts of the job, for sure,” said Pearson.

And even with eviction moratoriums in place, there have been more than 11-thousand eviction filings in St. Louis since March of 2020, according to research by the Princeton University project Eviction Lab.

“It can totally change someone's life for the worse. Simply having an eviction filing on your record can make it incredibly difficult to ever rent again,” said Pearson.

That’s why Johnson keeps fighting—hoping his new landlord will at least buy him out of his lease while he searches for a new one.

“I shouldn't have to go through this,” said Johnson. “This is stressful.”

If you or someone you know is facing eviction or struggling with rental payments, you can speak with an EHOC tenant advocate at 314-534-5800. Mediation for eviction cases are also available; call EHOC at 314-534-5800 or visit their website for more information.