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D.C. Council to vote on Eviction Reform Temporary Amendment Act of 2018

July 10, 2018

The D.C. Council is set to vote Tuesday on a second reform to regulate how landlords evict tenants, just two weeks after passing a similar reform.

The Eviction Reform Temporary Amendment Act of 2018 would require landlords to give evicted tenants 72 hours to pick up their belongings. Two weeks ago, the council approved a similar bill guaranteeing tenants 30 days to pick up their things, but lawmakers apparently needed to take another stab at eviction reform.

“On the dais when the [original bill] was presented, there were a number of members who stated they were uncomfortable with the specific proposal and they wanted us to revisit this,” council Chairman Phil Mendelson told The Washington Times when asked why he co-introduced the new legislation.

Last month, the council unanimously approved the Eviction with Dignity Emergency Amendment Act of 2018, which aimed to stop the practice of tossing evicted tenants’ belongings out onto the street. It would require landlords to keep belongings in a storage unit and give tenants 30 days to pick them up.

Some lawmakers complained they weren’t given enough time to read the bill before they voted unanimously to approve it.

The Eviction Reform Temporary Amendment Act aims to revise that reform measure. The new amendment would require belongings be kept in the evicted tenants’ rented space instead of a storage unit and give tenants 72 hours to pick them up after the landlord has changed the locks.

Mr. Mendelson said the June and July bills are temporary (lasting 90 days and 250 days, respectively) because the council rushed to roll them out to match the revised procedures of the U.S. Marshals Service, which carries out evictions in the District.

Previously, the Marshals Service scheduled evictions 24 hours in advance and oversaw landlords as they moved belongings to the curb and changed the locks. As of Monday, the service said it will schedule evictions further in advance, will reschedule if there’s inclement weather and no longer will oversee the removal of tenants’ belongings.

“We went back after a number of incidents, and we re-examined the process for the first time in about 30 years,” said Robert Brandt, a spokesman for the Marshals Service at D.C. Superior Court, which handles eviction proceedings.

With no law requiring belongings to be set on the street, Mr. Brandt said there was no reason to continue the practice.

Last winter, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Marshals Service on behalf of a woman who allegedly was evicted half-naked and had several belongings damaged. The ACLU declined to comment on the new eviction procedures Monday.

Randi Marshall, a legislative staffer for the D.C. Council, said city lawmakers “were definitely blindsided by [the Marshals Service’s] policy change.”

“We are not required to consult with the city council, though we feel its very important to collaborate with them,” Mr. Brandt said, noting the federal agency’s participation in a council working group on Monday and the service’s four-month delay in rolling out its revised procedures.

Monday evening, the new eviction reform was anything but settled.

The council’s legislative working group debated details with advocacy groups and the Marshals Service “for hours,” according to Mr. Brandt and other staffers. Discussions led to several changes, including striking language from the June bill to require tenants to “opt-in” to storing their belongings.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, voiced concern about the clause during the June vote but declined to comment Monday on its removal, her spokeswoman said.

“With so much movement on this bill, it’s unclear on our end exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Silverman spokeswoman Ashley Fox. “There could be additional changes between now and the morning, and we don’t want to be ahead of whatever becomes the final item presented on the dais, if that makes sense.”

Public hearings on permanent bills will have to wait for September, when the council returns from its summer recess.

A spokesman for councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, told The Times she would be exploring legislation in the fall to expunge old evictions from tenants’ permanent records.

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