July 20, 2023
Philadelphia's landlord-tenant office agreed Wednesday to halt evictions until its employees and contractors have received up-to-date trainings on de-escalation and use of force procedures.
Since March, three deputy officers have opened fire during eviction lockouts, including one Tuesday at the Grace Townhomes in Kensingon.
Marisa Shuter, the city's court-appointed landlord-tenant officer, agreed to suspend evictions until the Philadelphia Municipal Court has been assured that the necessary trainings have been completed, Martin O'Rourke, a spokesperson for the court, told WHYY.
During the suspension, landlords still may contact the Sheriff's Office to help enforce evictions. That office performs some evictions in the city, but private contractors hired by Shuter carry out many of the lockouts. Other cities tend to rely on the sheriff or other law enforcement officers to carry out evictions, the Inquirer reported.
The agreement came after a 33-year-old woman was shot in the leg by a deputy landlord-tenant officer during an eviction at the Grace Townhomes on Tuesday, CBS Philadelphia reported. Shuter told KYW that the tenant assaulted the property manager and threatened the deputy landlord-tenant officer with a knife before she was shot in the leg. The shooting remains under investigation.
In June, a deputy landlord-tenant officer shot at a tenant's dog during an eviction in North Philly, though the dog was unharmed. In March, another deputy officer shot a 35-year-old woman in the head during an eviction in Sharswood, prompting scrutiny from elected officials and calls for reform.
On Wednesday, Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier issued a joint statement applauding the court for agreeing to temporarily halt evictions. City Council held hearings about the landlord-tenant office earlier this year in the wake of the first shooting, calling for transparency.
"After three shootings in four months, it has never been clearer that the way Philadelphia carries out evictions is unjustly violent and in need of immediate reform," they said. "We cannot think of any other aspect of our justice system that operates as recklessly, opaquely and dangerously as the landlord-tenant officer and her private security contractors. We owe it to our residents to bring transparency, accountability and oversight to this government service. Our neighbors facing eviction should not have to worry about being shot by an untrained private security contractor while they are enduring one of the most traumatic moments of their life."
Brooks and Gauthier called on the landlord-tenant office to establish a policy for notifying tenants of the date and time of their evictions in order to eliminate unexpected lockouts. They called for guidelines on conducting evictions, including protocols for discharging firearms, and a public process to release the names of – and investigate – deputies involved in shootings.
Gauthier and Brooks also noted that City Council's investigation into the landlord-tenant office last month found that there is a profit-driven nature to handling evictions, incentivizing contractors to evict "as many people as possible." Shuter collects a fee from landlords for conducting evictions and is not paid by the courts, Gauthier said in June.
The recent shootings by deputy landlord-tenant officers also have renewed calls for reform by state legislators, who introduced a bill earlier this year to ban the use of private contractors in enforcing evictions. Sens. Nikil Saval and Sharif Street, both of Philadelphia, said the practice does not allow for public oversight. The legislation has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.