The shooting of a tenant in the Girard Court apartments taught me something new about how the city does evictions and serves as a reminder of why you shouldn’t privatize everything.
Did you know that you don’t necessarily be a sheriff to perform an armed eviction on someone in Philadelphia?
Well, until a resident of the Girard Court apartments in North Philadelphia was shot in the head by one of the folks sent to evict them by an independent law firm called a Landlord Tenant Officer, or LTO for the purposes of this column, I didn’t either. But apparently, such evictions are legal.
In one of the many quirks of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, municipalities are allowed to outsource such things as evictions through LTOs. The LTO then subcontracts the work to private security companies that become the officer’s deputies, giving out notices, and performing the evictions themselves.
Odin Properties, owners of Girad Court, hired the officers to get the couple out after they had lost an $8,000 judgement in landlord-tenant court. According to the progressive advocacy group One PA, the company is one of the city’s most prolific evictors,
With 10,000 rental units in its possession, Odin gives the LTO process a workout.
While these deputy LTOs aren’t actual law enforcement officers, they’re often mistaken for the sheriff’s deputies that have traditionally handled evictions. The Philadelphia Police Department is trying to figure out if this is an officer-involved shooting and is withholding the name of the deputy until they do.
(Personally, I think the way that police might be able to tell whether the deputy was a law enforcement officer would be to check out their body cameras. These private contractors are required to wear them, which sworn officers would rather hit themselves in the head with a skillet than put one of those on.)
In the nation’s poorest city of its size, a place where affordable housing isn’t all that plentiful, hearing the sheriff’s knock and being handed an eviction notice is a traumatizing experience. By the time you find yourself in this position, you’ve tried all you can to not have this problem.
So, imagine a civilian becoming a part of this experience. Possibly one of your neighbors. I couldn’t handle it.
But private companies dressed in sheriff-esque uniforms are doing it. And the company itself is probably retaining a gang of attorneys whose mission is to keep them from having to buy a house for that tenant they shot during the eviction.
When State Sens. Sharif Street and Nikil Saval found out about this, they decided that it shouldn’t be the case anymore. The two senators have introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice by amending the state’s codes to say that the courts can no longer contract their eviction work out to private companies.
In a statement issued by the two senators, they agreed that giving the power to remove someone from their home to a private company doesn’t have the level of accountability the act of evicting someone should have.
“The use of private contractors creates a system in which an operator enters a home with no regulation, no oversight, and no accountability,” Sen, Saval said. “Evictions are already violent, dangerous, destabilizing events—for the household and for the surrounding community. The forced removal of a person from their home is an area of grave public concern and must be subject to democratic control.”
“Our proposed legislation will ensure that public offices, not profit-driven entities, are responsible for enforcing writs of possession and other orders related to Landlord-Tenant cases,” Sen. Street said.
I’ve gotta agree with that. As taxpayers, it’s important to know what our government is doing, and whom they’re allowing to do it, in our name. I’m pretty sure that if you asked most taxpayers, the thought of a private entity sending private security to a neighbor’s home to kick them out, it would be a far from popular idea.
Allowing it in the nation’s poorest big city just adds insult to injury.