For years landlords and tenants alike have complained that the DC eviction procedures are unfair. Landlords complain that the process is inefficient and slow, as a result, it takes too long to regain possession of the rental unit after an eviction order. Tenants have decried the process as inhumane and resulting in damage, destruction, and theft of personal belongings. After decades of carrying out evictions in the same manner, the U.S. Marshals have made significant changes which will likely be rolled out in the next couple of months. The changes may be the USMS’ response to recent high profile botches, like the eviction of a tax firm which resulted in dumping boxes of sensitive personal information into the public street. Regardless of the reason, the changes are coming.
Landlords complain: the DC eviction procedure is cumbersome and inefficient
Currently, for landlords, the actual recovery of possession of an apartment comes at the end of an arduous and expensive eviction case, during which time, often, the tenant has not paid rent. Once the case is finally concluded, things do not get any more efficient. The landlord is cleared to file a writ of restitution, which is the order that instructs the US Marshals Service to evict the tenant. The writ gets sent to the Marshal and gets put at the bottom of a pile of writs which are supposedly executed in the order received. When will your writ come up? It’s anybody’s guess. Further, it depends on a variety of factors outside of the landlord’s control. These factors include the quadrant that the property is located in, the weather, and the time of year. (virtually no residential evictions take place between November and March and once they restart, there is an enormous backlog).
Tenants do their part to disrupt the process at every turn
Perhaps understandably, tenants do everything in their power to stop an eviction from going forward. They file motions to stay the eviction, often, multiple times, which, costs the landlord additional time and money. Some tenants even resort to unscrupulous means to derail the eviction process. I had one case where the tenant ducked two eviction dates by scraping the unit number off of the door. When the Marshals showed up, they refused to let the eviction proceed because the unit was not properly numbered. My frustrated landlord client eventually burned the number into the metal frame of the door. That did the trick. However, each time that the tenant averts the eviction with a meritless motion or an ice scraper there are weeks of additional delay and another month of rent is gone forever.
The landlord gets little notice of the eviction date under the current system
The way that the Marshals presently give notice of the eviction date puts the landlord in a real time crunch. A few days in advance of the contemplated eviction, the USMS calls and gives the landlord the date and time the eviction will be carried out. At that point, the landlord has to hire a sufficient number of people to carry out the eviction, schedule a locksmith to be onsite, and pray for good weather on the appointed day. If the landlord misses the call, is not available on the assigned date, or is up against a crafty tenant with a putty knife, it could take weeks to get a new eviction date.
Tenants gripe: the current DC eviction procedure is unnecessarily violent and destructive
If you’ve been in town for more than fifteen minutes, you’ve noticed the piles. Periodically, while on your way to work you’ve seen heaps of broken furniture, old couches, beds and trash bags strewn along the curb. I’m sure not long after that you learned that each pile signified an evicted tenant. If you’ve never witnessed a DC eviction procedure in action, it’s actually pretty horrifying. Bear in mind that I’ve been involved in hundreds of eviction cases over the years, and every time I see one executed, it seems really inhumane and wasteful. Let me set the scene. It’s 6:15 AM on eviction day and the landlord is on site with the eviction “crew” and a locksmith. By “crew” I mean 15-20 mangy homeless (or recently homeless) dudes armed with big contractor’s trash bags. The US Marshals show up, go through their checklist and then give the green light. The door is opened and the gang of roughnecks storms into the apartment. They carelessly scoop whatever clothing or other stuff that they can get their arms around into the enormous black bags. Then, they throw the bags in, near or towards the general direction of the street. Same with the couch, the dresser, the pots, pans, dishes (…oops, that one broke), and on-and-on. It’s fast, it’s ugly, it’s violent, and then it’s over. After the Marshals leave, the scavengers come and start picking through the tenant’s belongings. Sometimes the tenant is there, watching all of their stuff getting thrown in the street and then stolen. Sometimes they cry, yell, or curse the landlord. One time I saw a tenant try and attack the Marshal, not good.
The Marshals have made at least two major changes:
1. Elimination of the eviction crew
Under the new process, the eviction will only consist of a Marshal supervised lock change. Instead of the customary horde of thugs with trash bags, the Marshals have indicated that they will arrive on the scene and the landlord can change the locks on the apartment with the tenant’s belongings still inside. As a result, the Marshals can conduct evictions more quickly and reduce the backlog. Additionally, it solves the problem of a tenant’s personal property being carelessly thrown into the street to be broken and stolen.
2. New Scheduling Procedure
The second big change coming, is the notification process. The Marshals have advised that they will schedule evictions and send notice to both the landlord and the tenant within two weeks of the Writ filing. This new process addresses the problem of landlords and tenants alike having to guess when an eviction might take place, and making multiple calls to the Courthouse to get partial information about timing.
The new procedure raises new complaints
After all, this is a change, in D.C., which means nobody is happy. Tenants raise the point that by changing evictions to essentially Marshal supervised lock changes, they are denied access to their personal belongings. This includes their clothes, medicine, food and other essentials. The landlords fire back that the new procedures actually make things worse. Under the old system, they would at least get possession of the unit on the day of the eviction. Now, all they get is new keys to a unit filled with their former tenant’s stuff. Do they now have to pay to inventory and store these items before they can re-rent? For how long? How many cases about the stolen Picasso or missing $300 bath mat are landlords going to have to defend as a result of this forced bailment relationship with their former tenant? Enter the pols. Ward 6 Council-member Charles Allen told Citypaper last week that he and his cohorts are considering a legislative change to address some of the issues raised by the USMS new DC eviction procedures. I suppose that we will have to wait and see what, if anything, the Council does in the coming weeks before their recess. If you have a question about how the proposed changes to the eviction procedures affect you, I would be glad to discuss your situation with you further. Simply contact me or use my online scheduling tool to set up a free case evaluation at a time that is convenient for you.