The U.S. marshal for the District has reduced the number of court-ordered evictions his office carries out from 60 a day to 20 because of budget cutbacks under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation. The cutback has more than tripled the backlog of eviction orders.
The marshal's service had stepped up its eviction activities during the past two years to reduce a backlog that had grown to 2,316 in 1984. At one point, the backlog had been reduced to about 350 cases, but has jumped to 1,240 since the budget-saving measures were implemented in March.
Some landlords reported a sharp increase in the number of delinquent tenants who settled their accounts in 1984 when they were notified that the marshals were coming. Now landlords say they are concerned that the growing backlog of evictions will mean that eviction orders, which are valid for 35 days, will expire before they are enforced.
"We can't stay in business if we're not collecting rents," Donald Slatton, executive vice president of the D.C. Apartment and Office Building Association, said yesterday. "This is a very, very important issue."
Slatton noted that even when a tenant has vacated an apartment, a marshal still must verify that the rental unit is vacant.
He said landlords are trying to develop a system to flag empty units so that marshals know in advance that executing the orders for those units will not take a great deal of time.
U.S. Marshal Herbert M. Rutherford III said yesterday that his office's budget is $598,000 less than last year's $1.6 million budget as he explained the cutback in eviction activity. The biggest budget reduction, of $470,319, was in the areas of overtime, part-time employes and travel expenses, Rutherford said.
Before the cuts were announced, Rutherford said he had planned to request an additional $300,000 to $400,000 to complete this fiscal year. Instead, he had to reduce his staff by 10 part-time workers.
"There is nothing that can be done," Rutherford said of the eviction decrease. "The manpower is just not there. I'm at bare bones right now."
On Tuesday, the marshals began with 1,211 eviction orders and executed 20 of them. Six orders had expired and landlords canceled an additional 37 orders for various reasons. Because judges issued 92 new eviction orders that day, the marshal's service ended the day with 1,240 orders, an increase of 29.
Although Rutherford said he is concerned about the backlog, he stressed that he cannot make evictions a top priority.
The chief responsibilities of the marshal's service include providing secruity for trials and judges and transporting District prisoners to and from court.
Because of budget cutbacks, Rutherford said, judges have been asked not to request prisoners before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. and lawyers have been told not to expect the marshal's service to transport prisoners to the District for the sole purpose of interviews with their lawyers. Even with such changes, Rutherford said he is uncertain how his office will make it through the year without additional funds.
"Overall security is good," he said. "Evictions is where I have had to draw a line. It is just a matter of looking at priorities. All evictions are civil matters and my first responsibility is to criminal matters."