The Lead

Pa. Democrats propose overhauling Philly’s landlord-tenant officer system

By: - April 3, 2023 6:30 am
State Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, speaks during the Whole-Home Repairs Act Rally held on the Capitol steps on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

State Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, speaks during the Whole-Home Repairs Act Rally held on the Capitol steps on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Two Philadelphia-area lawmakers want to ensure that public officers — not private contractors — are responsible for handling court orders in landlord-tenant cases.

After a Philadelphia deputy landlord-tenant officer shot a woman in the head last week while trying to carry out an eviction, Sens. Nikil Saval and Sharif Street, both Democrats, announced plans for legislation that would reform how the city serves writs and other orders in cases brought against tenants.

The incident, they wrote in a memo seeking legislative support, “laid bare” issues with the current system, which gives the appointed landlord-tenant officer — who is from a private law firm and appointed by the Philadelphia Municipal Court — authority to hire officers to serve as deputies.

The landlord-tenant officers are not sworn law enforcement officers. Instead, they’re private security contractors hired and deputized to carry out court-issued orders in these cases.

Marisa Shuter is the current landlord-tenant officer in Philadelphia.

Saval and Street described the arrangement as “untenable, adding that it doesn’t allow for public oversight over “the forced removal of someone from their home.”

“Housing is dignity and security, and these tenets should exist throughout the process,” Street said in a statement. “It is absurd to allow private entities to use force to evict vulnerable people from their homes.”

Their proposed legislation, he added, puts “the well-being and safety of our communities first.”

Other Pennsylvania counties have the sheriff and their deputies perform evictions and serve other orders in landlord-tenant cases. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office can and does serve legal notices in these cases, charging almost $350 to carry out an eviction notice.

In a statement, Saval said that using private contractors to perform evictions “creates a system in which an operator enters a home with no regulation, no oversight, and no accountability.”

“Evictions are already violent, dangerous, destabilizing events — for the household and for the surrounding community,” he said. “We cannot allow this arrangement to continue for a moment longer. The forced removal of a person from their home is an area of grave public concern and must be subject to democratic control.”

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