Police

Why Do D.C. Evictions Require Rifle-Wielding U.S. Marshals?

How many movers-and armed federal agents-does it take to evict a D.C. tenant? Too many, thanks to weird government regulations.

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ENB

Exiting my apartment building yesterday, I noticed a pair of armed, SWAT-vest wearing law enforcement agents overseeing a crowd of people moving boxes and furniture. Coming closer, I could see that the agents were U.S. marshals. The people helping with the move were mostly in matching neon T-shirts and there were at least a dozen of them, despite relatively little in the way of things to be moved. It turns out both strange details can be accounted for by one thing: the U.S. Marshals Service's involvement in Washington, D.C., tenant evictions.

It's standard practice for U.S. marshals to preside over D.C. evictions, in the same way that sheriff's deputies might do in other areas. That's because it falls to U.S. marshals to serve and carry orders of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, including "Writs of Restitution that are issued for the recovery by eviction of tenants." The U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia also sets the rules for the process of physically evicting tentants.

This winds up weird for a number of reasons. First, let's consider the impact on evicted tenants. Being evicted is tough enough without the public embarrassment and intimidation of having it made into a spectacle complete with rifle-wearing U.S. marshals in SWAT vests and a baseball team's worth of mandated movers. And the potential for escalation of hostilities, violence, and (should anything get out of hand) criminal penalties are always greater when you throw armed federal agents into the mix. Sure, some sort of security during evictions might be necessary, but in most cases it could probably be handled better by building security staff or community police than people primarily trained for things like federal-prisoner transport and apprehending fugitives.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of D.C. recently filed an official complaint against the U.S. Marshals Service related to the 2015 eviction of Donya Williams and her 12-year-old daughter. Williams alleges she was naked when multiple marshals burst into her room and barely let her dress before shuffling her out. "And I'm sitting there just shaking, just trembling and I'm saying, 'please just give me a minute to get dressed because I don't have on anything," Williams told local ABC affiliate WJLA.

"There is not even a plausible safety justification for that," ACLU attorney Scott Michelman said. "It's just humiliating and it's wrong."

Then there's the burden for landlords. Certainly some landlords may want law-enforcement presence during the eviction of some tenants, but not every eviction is potentially volatile or dangerous. Again, building security staff or community police could sometimes suffice. Yet landlords aren't given these options and must bring in a minimum of two U.S. marshals for the entirety of the eviction process and also pay their hourly rate.

Landlords are also required by the U.S. Marshals Service to provide a specified number of movers, depending on the type of dwelling and number of bedrooms. This is not bendable based on the actual size of a dwelling or amount of stuff leftover therein. For one-bedroom apartments, 10 movers are required. For two-bedroom apartments, landlords must provide 15 movers and for three-bedroom apartments there must be 20 movers. Single-family home evictions require landlords to provide a minimum of 25 movers.

What's more, the marshals will call off the whole thing the day before if weather forecasts call for a 50 percent or greater chance of precipitation within the next 24 hours or temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Requiring so many bodies to show up for moves that may be canceled last minute (and may or may not actually require that much manpower) has lead to some perverse business practices. Rather than being able to rely on regular movers (who may charge per worker provided and have strict penalties for last-minute cancellations) or volunteers from local nonprofits (who could actually benefit from or hold on to leftover possessions but may prefer to do the job with less workers in more time), landlords often contract with companies that specialize in evictions. In turn, these companies keep costs low by relying on a roving cast of day laborers, often recruited outside D.C. homeless shelters, and—according to a recent investigation from the Washington City Paper—often refusing to pay what they initially promise or failing to provide workers with basic amenities like water.

Meanwhile, the District of Columbia Superior Court writ allowing a landlord to evict a given tenant is only good for 75 days. If bad weather and a frequent backlog of cases prevents U.S. marshals from being able to preside over an eviction within that time period, tenants can continue to live at the property without paying rent and landlords must reapply and repay for a second writ.

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    1. Oh goody, let’s live through this again.

      1. (shrug)

        its already had its effect.

      2. Some wounds never heal, Spark. Especially if you’re too fragile for even the mildest slight.

        1. The only rational conclusion is that Reason hates Sloopy’s mom.

      1. “”and what’s the deal with airplane food!”

  1. Yet landlords aren’t given these options and must bring in a minimum of two U.S. marshals for the entirety of the eviction process and also pay their hourly rate.

    Landlords are also required by the U.S. Marshal’s Service to provide a specified number of movers, depending on the size and type of dwelling. This is not bendable based on the actual size of a dwelling or amount of stuff leftover therein. For one-bedroom apartments, 10 movers are required. For two-bedroom apartments, landlords must provide 15 movers and for three-bedroom apartments there must be 20 movers. Single-family home evictions require landlords to provide a minimum of 25 movers.

    What’s more, the marshals will call off the whole thing the day before if weather forecasts call for a 50 percent or greater chance of precipitation within the next 24 hours or temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

    It’s for their own good. Or something…

    1. It has to do with time it takes to evict someone. If you have 2 movers, it can eat up an entire day.

      I have about […] this much sympathy for tenants who stay even after a notice to vacate/notice of eviction/writ of possession or whatever your jurisdiction calls it. You were given 30-days/7-days/24-hours to move and you stay. You already had Due Process and now you are still going to cause trouble on property that is not yours that requires police? Fuck that.

      If property owners were violating leases and evicting tenants without Due Process I would have [……………………….] sympathy.

      1. Do you have any sympathy for the landlords who are required to provide ten movers for a one-bedroom apartment, and are required to pay for the Marshal’s Service to oversee the eviction?

  2. What’s more, the marshals will call off the whole thing the day before if weather forecasts call for a 50 percent or greater chance of precipitation within the next 24 hours or temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

    At first, I was a *bit* on the Marshals side re: “I was naked when they came to evict me.” The door kicking was certainly excessive, but it wasn’t some no-knock surprise eviction raid. Then the marshals had to go have a stated policy reaffirms they’re every bit the lazy douchebags I should assume they’d be.

    It’s a good thing ENB doesn’t live out in the sticks. She’d have to get over the onerous burden of dealing with the Marshal Service every time some poor misunderstood crackpot writer, simply executing his 1A rights, started mailing people his manifesto from a one-room cabin in the woods.

  3. Well one of the only times I’ve had to call 911 was when my parents had to evict one of their tenants (a hell process in California), and the sheriff had to escort them out and they left. Then as soon as the sheriff leaves they come back and start threatening us as we are inside changing the locks.

    So the SJPD comes and I talk to them. Before I can say anything, the officer says “thank you so much for getting rid of these people. I’m tired of coming down here”

  4. Certainly some landlords may want law-enforcement presence during the eviction of some tenants, but not every eviction is potentially volatile or dangerous.

    This certainly would be understandable. But there’s a big difference between a uniform showing up and standing in the background to make sure the tenant doesn’t get violent– the cop in this case would actually DE-escalate the situation. But why they’re turning evictions into quasi-SWAT raids is certainly a mystery.

    1. But why they’re turning evictions into quasi-SWAT raids is certainly a mystery.

      – “Officer safety”

      – Because they can

  5. Certainly some landlords may want law-enforcement presence during the eviction of some tenants, but not every eviction is potentially volatile or dangerous.

    I’ve been part of evicting two sets of tenants. One was peaceful and one was not. The one was wasn’t, we found a bunch of romex casing under the house, and the husband had already been in jail once for stripping copper

  6. Yet landlords aren’t given these options and must bring in a minimum of two U.S. marshals for the entirety of the eviction process and also pay their hourly rate.

    Nice work if you can force it.

  7. While those 25 guys are waiting around for a renter to be evicted from a home, maybe they can bring along some cold patch and fill some potholes, huh?

  8. We should have this spectacle every time the occupants of The White House change over.

    1. We do. A weeks worth. Televised.

  9. This spectacle should be SOP for when the tenants of the White House leave.

    1. The squirrels not only stall the posts, they change the second one that is posted.

  10. I was surprised to find out ENB lived in Washington DC.

    1. Obviously you haven’t been around too long then. She fits in perfectly with the big government liberalism and the blatant dishonesty.

      1. DAMMIT MIKE I WAS BEING SARCASTIC, WAY TO STEP ON THE JOKE –

        Or is your answer faux-earnestness? The plot thickens!

  11. Requiring so many bodies to show up for moves that may be canceled last minute (and may or may not actually require that much manpower) has lead to some perverse business practices.

    I suspect that legal requirement didn’t come into being all on its own, and I’ll bet I can guess exactly who was behind getting it put in place. Rent-seeking doesn’t lead to perverse business practices, it is a perverse business practice.

  12. Wait, the landlord has to pay for all of this? Because some asshole couldn’t or wouldn’t pay rent?

    That don’t seem right.

    Why does anyone own rental property? Seems like the state basically seizes your property if you decide to let someone else live there.

  13. I have to be impressed that the marshal’s can screw over both the tenant and the landlord to this degree. That requires a special touch.

  14. Yup. It takes FedGov to make an Everest out of a tiny stinking molehill, and the pubic pay. Every time. ONLY FedGov bureaucrats could invent a system such as this.

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