EDITORIAL: Evictions with Dignity in D.C.

It’s an all too frequent and common scene in the nation’s capital of furniture and other personal effects strewn along sidewalks or curb sides, signaling an eviction. It’s the inhumane way the District has allowed landlords and the U.S. Marshals to deal with renters who have fallen egregiously behind on their rent. It is also ironic that the majority of these evictions are carried out by men and occasionally women who may be homeless themselves and are eager to work for a day for a few bucks paid to them by the eviction companies.

The process has been carried out for many years and it once met the ire of the late Mayor Marion Barry, who spoke of the embarrassing and dehumanizing impact of evictions but didn’t do anything to change it. Last week, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White and At-Large Member Anita Bonds introduced the Eviction with Dignity Act of 2018 to change how evictions are carried out in the District. With the support of the majority of the council, the new law will require landlords to “exercise reasonable care in the storage of the personal property of a tenant who has vacated the premises voluntarily or by eviction for a period of 10 days.” Instead of piling the contents of the premises on the sidewalk, the law requires the property to be stored in the unit allowing the property owner to recover their property without paying a storage fee. Notice and contact information must also be provided to allow the tenant an opportunity to retrieve their property, but after 10 more days, the landlord is allowed to dispose of the property (and we hope not on the street) without further notice.

As gentrification has spread across the city, there seems little empathy for those who unfortunately are removed from their homes. To make matters worse, there are tenants who suffer evictions when payments are made but not in time for the landlord to inform the marshals. The insensitivity is further displayed by gleaners who use someone’s unfortunate situation to enhance their own as they pick through and carry away property that does not belong to them.

This action is long overdue. Not everyone who falls behind in paying their bills, including their rent, is a deadbeat, nor do they deserve to be treated as such. This is an issue with which the council and all parties impacted seem to concur. There’s got to be a more dignified way to address such an unfortunate situation.

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