Philadelphia Landlord-Tenant Court processes approximately 20,000 filings each year. Many of those cases are not contested by the tenant and the landlord is given legal authority to take possession of their unit back. However, nearly half of the remaining cases settle with a Judgment by Agreement (JBA) – a process designed to facilitate a resolution of the dispute between the landlord and tenant.
Reinvestment Fund’s research has identified a number of positive and negative attributes to the process and resulting agreements. In this Brief, Reinvestment Fund reviews the learnings from an analysis of JBAs as well as interviews with tenants and landlords (and their respective attorneys) and court observation.
When Philadelphia Landlord-Tenant court reopens after the COVID-19 closure, there will undoubtedly be a backlog of cases that landlords will have been waiting to file. In this moment, when stable housing is more than ever a critical part of public health strategy and landlords need stabilized incomes to provide that housing, it is the time to make significant decisions around court processes and resources to ensure that the eviction process operates in a way that is both fair and efficient.
Based on our research, we recommend the city and court take several actions to enhance equity in the court process at a time when filing volume will put pressure on the system to resolve cases more quickly. Our key recommendations include:
- Requiring that any rental assistance administered by the City of Philadelphia to parties in an already-filed eviction proceeding be contingent on the eviction filing being resolved as a withdrawal with prejudice rather than as a judgment (or Judgment by Agreement).
- Piloting a post-filing eviction diversion program modeled on Philadelphia’s award-winning Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program. This would necessitate funding and training housing counselors to work with tenants before their court date to organize their finances, connect them with financial assistance, and determine a realistic payment plan and/or mutually agreeable exit strategy.
- Ensuring unrepresented tenants and landlords fully understand their rights and obligations before they negotiate the terms of a JBA to maximally ensure that an equitable and productive JBA is achieved.