City Council will move forward with plans to investigate Philadelphia’s Landlord-Tenant Officer –– a private lawyer appointed to execute evictions on behalf of the city’s Municipal Court, collecting a tidy profit in the process.
The court officer was the subject of a recent WHYY News investigation that found the current appointee, Marisa Shuter, is the daughter of a former Municipal Court president judge and is married to Judge David C. Shuter. The latter has occasionally presided over eviction cases, resulting in his wife’s office collecting related fees when he ruled in landlords’ favor.
Councilmember Helen Gym, who has advocated for more tenant protections, credited this reporting in a resolution calling for hearings into the Landlord-Tenant Officer last week. She also credited a separate Inquirer editorial board investigation that raised concerns about the officer adequately notifying tenants targeted for eviction.
“Recent investigative reporting has raised serious questions about the Landlord Tenant Office’s documentation of its legal responsibilities, and revealed potential conflicts of interest,” Gym said. “With so much on the line for people amid an eviction crisis exacerbated by a pandemic, we have to ensure that officers carrying out public responsibilities do so fairly and with the highest degree of professionalism.”
During a Thursday session, her colleagues voted in favor of authorizing Council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless to reexamine the officer’s “role and responsibilities.”
A unique entity in Pennsylvania, the court-appointed officer employs a cohort of armed deputies to notify tenants of court-ordered evictions and perform lockouts. The deputies are not required to hold any official law enforcement credentials, though a large number are retired police officers, according to Shuter.
Gym previously called for the abolition of the officer, while housing advocate Phil Lord said a business that derived revenue from eviction fees could not be trusted to uphold tenants’ interests.
“These people are working for the landlords. Their job is to get the house vacant,” he said of Shuter’s office. “Why is this private business doing the courts’ work?”
Shuter did not respond to an email for comment on Thursday.
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.