D.C. Mayor Marion Barry yesterday asked the U.S. Marshals Service to stop its new program of evicting tenants on Saturday, saying the city's budget is being strained by the need to provide services to the newly displaced families.
Anthony J. Furka, acting U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, said he would meet with city officials Monday to try to resolve the controversial issue. Evictions are normally carried out only on weekdays, but Saturday evictions began last week under an agreement by which city landlords will reimburse the marshals for the overtime work. Tenants' groups opposed the new policy.
Furka said he had canceled this Saturday's planned evictions even before he received the mayor's letter. The cancellation was due to "other operational requirements," he said.
"The landlords want us to do them and the tenants don't and I'm sitting in the middle with the federal responsibilty to do it," Furka said yesterday, adding later: "I've been hit from all sides."
"I am strongly opposed to your newly enacted policies of evicting persons on Saturday," Barry wrote Furka, adding: "I would urge that you cease all such actions." The mayor asked for a meeting "to work out future plans before additional Saturday evictions occur."
Barry told Furka the evictions were creating "serious problems for the District of Columbia government and its citizens . . . . Obviously the execution of such a large number of evictions on a single day strains our ability to provide adequate services to homeless families.
"The large number of homeless persons in the District of Columbia is already straining our limited resources," Barry wrote, and Saturday evictions would mean "additional costs in overtime for District employes" to help displaced tenants.
The marshals agreed to the program in an effort to reduce a backlog of some 4,000 eviction cases. Last Saturday the officers evicted 64 families. About 30 evictions are scheduled on an average weekday.
To evict a tenant who is behind in rent payments, a landlord must file suit in D.C. Superior Court, prove to a judge the rent is overdue and obtain an eviction order which is good for 30 days. If the overdue rent is later paid, the order becomes void. Most leases specify at what point unpaid rent becomes grounds for eviction; in most cases proceedings can begin if rent is one month late.
Earlier in the day about 30 demonstrators marched and chanted in front of the Mayflower Hotel protesting a luncheon meeting of the organization of landlords that is responsible for the Saturday evictions.
"We're demanding that AOBA (Apartment and Office Building Association) rescind the Saturday evictions," said Henry Alston, president of the newly formed Coalition Against Saturday Evictions, as protesters marched on the sidewalk behind him. Alston said neither he nor any of the demonstrators had been evicted.
Inside, more than 100 building owners and managers held their regular monthly meeting and declined demostrators' requests for a meeting. AOBA executive director John T. O'Neill said the Saturday evictions would continue.
"We don't want to put people on the street, but we have no alternative," he said. "It's either get the money or the unit back."