Pa.’s landlord-tenant law literally can get you killed | Michael Coard

Officials have a lot of explaining to do in the shooting of a Philadelphia woman

April 7, 2023 6:30 am

(Image AdobeStock via The Philadelphia Gay News)

On March 29, a so-called “landlord-tenant officer” shot 35-year-old Angel Davis in the head and nearly killed her while serving her with eviction papers in Philadelphia at the Girard Court Apartments at 2101 North College Avenue.

First of all, what is a ‘landlord-tenant officer?” Second, why was he carrying a gun to serve eviction documents?

Well, before telling you what a landlord-tenant officer is and before answering that second question, allow me to tell you what a landlord-tenant officer is not. He is not a police officer. He is not a deputy sheriff. He is not even a constable.

In order to become a police officer, a person has to pass a physical fitness test, a reading ability test, a drug test, a medical test, a polygraph test, and a psychological test as well as undergoing an extensive background check. And there are similar tests and checks to become a deputy sheriff or a constable. Such tests and checks are required for those three professions because those employees have a license to kill.

But no such testing or checking is required for landlord-tenant officers.

It seems to me, based on off-the-record discussions with confidential sources in Philadelphia Municipal Court, that the only requirement is nepotism.

More about that later. Much more.

I mentioned Philadelphia Municipal Court because that is the judicial entity that governs all landlord tenant matters in the city. By the way, in Pennsylvania’s other 66 counties, magisterial district judges have jurisdiction over such matters. 

Now back to my first question regarding what exactly a landlord-tenant officer is. Here’s my answer: They’re a member of the Municipal Court-sanctioned private mercenary pistol-packing army.

“The landlord tenant office is a private entity that carries out court orders. The officer is not … [an actual employee] of the City’s municipal court. A spokesperson for the court explained that a landlord-tenant officer is instead paid by a landlord,”  NBC-10 Philadelphia reported last month.

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

Now on to the second question regarding why he was carrying a gun to serve eviction documents.

Even better, why was he carrying a gun at all?  Keep in mind that he wasn’t at that apartment to stop a murder or a rape or a robbery or a shoplifting or even a jaywalking. He was there to serve papers on someone who apparently had some financial difficulties. And after the gun smoke cleared, a Black woman nearly died.

And for what? For being poor? 

Back to the gun, I was told by another confidential source in Municipal Court that a person is “qualified” to become a landlord-tenant officer as long as that person has a mere “Act 235” certification, which stems from a state law that allows a privately employed person to carry a firearm on the job.

But such a person, as I previously mentioned, does not have to take the kind of tests or pass the kind of checks that cops, deputies, and constables do. 

By the way, those landlord-tenant officers are such a joke that the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the 2017 Anderson case (No. 2764 EDA 2014) ruled that Act 235 does not even have as much legal weight as a standard firearm carry license.

In other words — and this is a true story — my friend’s grandmother who has vision problems, arthritis, and is morbidly obese was able to get a carry license and is therefore legally authorized to be strapped 24/7/365 anywhere in the Commonwealth, but landlord-tenant officers with only an Act 235 certification can only be strapped from 9-5 or otherwise during their working hours. Despite that, they are still authorized to kill financially distressed tenants.

Now, I know there are some folks out there who will say, “Well, I and many other people have heard that the woman came at the landlord-tenant officer with a knife, so he was justified in shooting her.”

However, there are two problems with that statement.

One: Gabriel Plummer, the victim’s husband who was an eyewitness, told CBS-3 News in Philadelphia that “nobody [except the landlord-tenant officer] had no weapons! Nobody [except that landlord-tenant officer] had no weapons at all!” Plummer added, in an interview with FOX-29, that “The landlord-tenant officer kept raising his weapon and shouting before firing.”

Two: Although all the evidence is not yet available, I can tell you that in my role as a criminal homicide defense attorney for more than 25 years, Section 505(b)(2)(i) and (iii) of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code makes it quite clear that “The use of deadly force is not justifiable if … the actor … provoked the use of force against himself … or the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using … [deadly] force with complete safety by retreating ….” Moreover, the Code points out that “The use of deadly force is not justifiable … [if the actor] was the initial aggressor ….”

It seems to me that the landlord-tenant officer, the landlord, and especially Municipal Court — in the profound words of Ricky Ricardo — “got some ‘splaining to do.”   

In particular, Municipal Court President Patrick F. Dugan has some explaining to do. And so does Marisa Silberstein Shuter, the city’s chief landlord-tenant officer. This information is included on’s  powerfully enlightening website.

In a future column, I’ll include the probing questions that I’ll soon send to Judge Dugan and Chief “Officer” Silberstein Shuter. And I’ll also include their verbatim responses — if any. 

But if they choose not to respond to me, maybe they’ll respond to you when thousands of you Pennsylvanians call and email them directly. 

In addition, I’ll explain the great work that Senator Sharif Street and Senator Nikil Saval are doing to amend the state law that dangerously allows money-grubbing private (i.e., non-governmental) entities to evict people in Pennsylvania. Kudos to Philadelphia Democratic state Sens. Sharif Street and Nikil Saval.

Stay tuned.   

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Michael Coard
Michael Coard

Opinion contributor Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @michaelcoard.