The District's Apartment and Office Building Association may move in the next few weeks to break up a backlog of unserved eviction notices.
Donald Slatton, executive vice president of the organization, could not say whether it will file suit as 11 members of Citizens for Better Housing did in April or take other legal action.
The 11 members' suit asked the U.S. District Courtto order U.S. Marshal Robert Matthews to carry out the eviction notices, called writs of restitution, issued by the D.C. Superior Court for their property or to show why he should not be held in contempt of court.
Kenneth J. Loewinger, attorney for the group, said its suit is pending and he is planning to file a Freedom of Information Act request that he believes will unearth documents to support his clients' case.
"We are concerned that we don't have an eviction system in this city, and we want to know why," he said.
"We know there has been some correspondence between the D.C. government and the U.S. Department of Justice about transferring the responsbility for evictions from the U.S. Marshal Service to D.C., and we know that the Justice Department was not happy about D.C.'s response," Loewinger said.
U.S. Marshal officials say that the backlog has been increased by a cut in manpower and that evictions are only one of many of their responsibilities.
Slatton said the Apartment and Office Building Association also is working on introducing federal and city legislation to increase the budget for the marshal's office
A writ of restitution, which is good for 35 days, is the legal document issued by the D.C. Superior Court when a judge finds, after a court hearing, that a tenant has neglected to pay rent and should be evicted.
Slatton estimated that nearly 2,400 writs of restitution are waiting to be served and that 60 new writs are issued and 120 extensions of expired writs are issued on an average day.
But an average of only 141 evictions were carried out each month for the first half of this year, according to a deposition taken on June 8 from Jack Martin, chief deputy clerk of the Landlord/Tenant Branch of the Superior Court. That figure is down by 40 percent from last year.
"It takes a landlord a minimum of five months, sometimes as long as nine months, to get an eviction carried out in the District," Slatton said. Jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland, where evictions are carried out by local sheriffs, report they do not have a serious backlog and are able to carry out evictions usually within 10 days of the issuance of the writ.
Landlords in the District arranged to get permission to pay U.S. marshals to work overtime on Saturdays to carry out evictions late last year, but city officials stopped the process after residents complained they could not get support services for displaced people on the weekend.
D.C. officials say they are working to see if the problem can be eased, but because the eviction issue is linked to many other social problems in the District, everyone involved in the discussions admits it is something of a political hot potato.
"Until we solve those problems that are connected with evictions--unemployment and lack of housing--I personally do not want to be connected with any effort that would make it any easier to move people out who through no fault of their own are unable to pay their bills," said D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), a member of the council's Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee.
"There's no doubt it is a serious problem, and yet, if we shifted the responsibility from the federal government to the District, the question becomes, 'Shall we spend more money to house people or should we spend it on evicting them when we have no housing.' That is the dilemma."
Slatton said he and members of the landlords group have suggested a number of solutions, including allowing off-duty city police officers, instead of U.S. marshals, to serve the writs but they have not found city politicians, officials at the Justice Department or judges with the District Court willing to negotiate on the details.
"Everybody is just shifting the problem to someone else," Slatton said. "We believe that, if something isn't done soon, then rental housing is going to begin to deteriorate in the city and then everybody loses."