When tenants are facing eviction from their homes, bankruptcy can be an attractive option to avoid or delay the eviction proceedings. Before taking this route, tenants should understand whether the bankruptcy rules in their state can help them avoid eviction or will simply delay the process. Tenants should also understand the additional benefits of bankruptcy if they are being evicted for nonpayment of rent and are facing a judgment for late rent. This article will address whether bankruptcy can protect tenants from eviction and the additional advantages of bankruptcy protections for tenants.
 
Is there already a judgment?
 
Whether bankruptcy can help you avoid eviction depends on whether you file for bankruptcy before or after the eviction process has begun and the state you live in. If your landlord already has a judgment from a court evicting you from the property, it is most likely too late. If a judgment has already been obtained based on non-payment of rent and your state law allows you to repay the landlord the rent you owe, you may be able to avoid eviction. Be aware that this state-law exception does not apply in most states and if there is already a judgment of eviction against you, it is most likely too late to avoid eviction. This is the case in Missouri, a Judgement for possession cannot be stopped through any specific Missouri State law.
 
If there is not a judgment yet, how can bankruptcy help?
 
If a judgment has not already been obtained evicting you from the property, bankruptcy is more likely to help you. Even if the landlord has filed for eviction, but has not yet received a judgment from the local court, the landlord will not be able to proceed without permission from the bankruptcy court. The “automatic stay” stops all creditors from pursuing debts you owe them until the bankruptcy court allows them to do so.
 
Have I avoided the eviction completely?
 
Keep in mind that the automatic stay does not mean you have avoided the eviction. The landlord can ask the court to “lift” the automatic stay and allow him or her to proceed with evicting you. Lifting the automatic stay will require the landlord to appear in bankruptcy court, which will require time and effort and may help you arrange alternative housing.
 
Once the landlord appears in bankruptcy court, the court is more likely to allow them to proceed with evicting you if you have fallen behind on your rent since you filed bankruptcy. Past rent is generally not a valid basis for evicting you. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy case would allow you to catch up with past rent. Debt is why you filed bankruptcy, after all, and the bankruptcy court is well aware of that fact. If you are not being evicted for nonpayment of rent but are instead being evicted due to illegal drug use on the property or you are otherwise endangering the rented property, the landlord will be able to proceed with the eviction regardless of whether you are current on your rent.
 
Due to the intersection of state and federal law in this area, it is important that you consult a qualified St. Louis bankruptcy attorney to discuss your particular situation and whether bankruptcy is appropriate for you.