Image of a blank writ of restitution for D.C.
credit: D.C. Courts, personal information removed

Three eviction bills, some benefiting landlords and some benefiting tenants, were debated by landlords, tenants and advocates at a Sept. 24 D.C. Council hearing. 

Councilmember Anita Bonds, head of the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, called the hearing to address the Housing Conversion and Eviction Clarification Amendment Act of 2018, the Eviction with Dignity Act of 2018 and the Eviction Prevention Act of 2017.   

“This is just another example of bills that only benefit the tenants and don’t help the landlords,” said Lois Johnson, who has been a landlord in D.C. for 11 years. 

Like Johnson, many landlords worry about the financial implications of implementing the Eviction with Dignity Act, which was first implemented as emergency legislation in July and requires landlords to store an evicted tenant’s belongings in the residence for seven business days.   “This bill is allowing additional expenses [for landlords] by requiring the hiring of individuals or companies to remove the personal property, cost of rent trucks and cost of disposing personal items,” Johnson said. “This bill is causing additional expenses for landlords to hire additional security to watch the unit until the 10 days is up because the unit could be broken into by the tenant or others.” 

Johnson also worried a disaffected tenant could falsely claim their items were damaged or stolen during the 10-day period and try to sue her. 

“As a landlord of the District of Columbia, I don’t want to be responsible for the personal property of the tenant and I shouldn’t have to be responsible for the personal property of the tenant,” Johnson said in her testimony. 

[Read more: Councilmember Allen initially wanted tenants’ belongings protected fo 30 days at the government’s expense] 

Reginald Black, a homeless Washingtonian, also criticized the Eviction with Dignity Act. “The bill needs some work. It has to include focused employment for those who have actually been paid to evict someone, like the day laborers once were,” he said.  

As Street Sense Media and Washington City Paper previously reported, several eviction companies in D.C. have relied on homeless people as day laborers and paid them far below minimum wage since at least 1999. According to a Street Sense Media vendor who has worked for these companies and helped with the most recent investigation, those practices ended when the Eviction With Dignity emergency bill was implemented and belongings were no longer disposed of the day a U.S. Marshal served the tenant with a writ of eviction.   

Black suggested D.C. Council should use the opportunity to create partnerships with city agencies, such as the Department of Employment Services, to employ these workers for the various services now needed to comply with the legislation. These include transporting belongings to a storage center, assisting with unit identification, providing preventative care to those at risk of eviction — i.e., security workers as described by Johnson. 

Illustration by Dwight Harris, Artist/Vendor

Howard Park, who has lived on South Carolina Street SE for the past 29 years said he fears the Housing Conversion and Eviction Clarification Amendment Act will leave him unjustly evicted from his home. Park lives in a unit that is designated as affordable housing and said the bill creates an “easy eviction loophole.”  

“I have never, ever been late with my rent,” Park testified. “But, under current law, I can be evicted with only 90 days’ notice because my landlord wants to convert my four-unit building into a family home for his personal use.” 

He claimed the bill is “typical of D.C.,” which builds affordable housing well, but does “a terrible job of conserving it.”   

Amber Harding, an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said eviction move-outs still lack the dignity promised for tenants.  

“D.C. is losing more affordable housing each year than it produces. D.C. underfunds eviction prevention funds every year and we don’t provide enough free tenant lawyers to represent everyone in court,’ she said. “Since D.C. hasn’t done enough to stop evictions, you must, at the very least, do what you can to reduce the pain of eviction.”  

[Read more: This court-appointed receiver filed eviction suits in bulk against tenants of two properties it intends to sell] 

Harding said she looks forward to working with Bonds and the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization to amend the existing bills in ways that better protect the evicted. 

She estimated D.C. saw approximately 2,000 evictions carried out in 2017.

Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced additional legislation Tuesday, Oct. 16 that “will require D.C. Superior Court to seal the eviction records of tenants after four years,” according to an article in the Washington City Paper. The bill would also call for the sealing of a tenant’s eviction records if they were evicted from a local or federal housing unit, among other protections, all in an effort to preserve the privacy of evicted tenants.