Landlord-tenant office faces lawsuit over shooting, reform push

landlord-tenant eviction reform
Angel Davis, who was shot while being evicted earlier this year, speaks to reporters Tuesday, July 25.
Jack Tomczuk

Momentum appears to be building behind an effort to reform Philadelphia’s eviction system, as a woman who was shot in the head during a lockout earlier this year filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the landlord-tenant officer.

Several state and local lawmakers stood next to Angel Davis and her attorneys as they discussed her legal complaint, which focuses on Marisa Shuter, a private attorney charged with hiring security contractors to evict tenants in exchange for a fee.

“We need to do more to protect those facing evictions from the kind of violent overreaction that happened to me,” said Davis, 35, who suffered a brain injury and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks following the shooting.

Shuter agreed to suspend landlord-tenant operations last week following two additional shootings, with judicial leaders saying the break would allow time for training in de-escalation and use of force.

Some want to go further. Nine City Council members signed a statement Tuesday supporting bringing eviction enforcement into the public domain with increased government oversight.

“This is not just an issue of adding a few trainings for deputies,” City Councilmember Kendra Brooks said. “This is a much deeper problem. We’re talking about armed men showing up at the doors without public accountability.”

Shuter, the complaint alleges, is “woefully unqualified to operate an armed security company.” She did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Her office hired Lamont Daniels, owner of Huntington Valley-based Protective Force and Fugitive Recovery, to evict Davis on March 29 from her unit at North Philadelphia’s Girard Court Apartments, the lawsuit says.

Daniels told a police dispatcher that Davis assaulted him and was wielding a knife, according to 911 transcripts included in the complaint. He could not immediately be reached for comment. The District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Davis with a crime.

“I had no idea I was going to be locked out of my apartment and did not know the identity of the man banging on my door,” she said. “I did nothing that should warrant being shot in the head.”

Girard Court Apartments and its manager, Odin Properties, were also named in the lawsuit. Philip Balderson, Odin’s founder and CEO, declined to comment on the litigation.

Late last month, a contractor working for the landlord-tenant officer, known as a deputy, fired at a tenant’s dog, though the animal was not wounded. On July 18, a deputy shot a 33-year-old woman in her leg during a lockout in Kensington.

“It is time to abandon this system that does not respect the legal rights of tenants and is little more than a profit bonanza for the landlord-tenant officer and the landlords who use her services,” Davis’s attorney, Bethany Nikitenko, told reporters.

Attorney Bethany Nikitenko speaks Tuesday, July 25, about a lawsuit filed on behalf of Angel David, who was shot during an eviction earlier this year.Jack Tomczuk

During a council hearing in June, renters described armed landlord-tenant deputies showing up without warning and giving them 10 minutes to gather their belongings before changing the locks.

“We know evictions do not impact everyone equally,” Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said Tuesday. “An overwhelming majority of those thrown out of their homes are Black, especially single Black mothers.”

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, a municipal or county agency, most often a constable, carries out evictions. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office handles some evictions; however, many landlords turn to the landlord-tenant office because the rates are cheaper.

The president judge of the city’s municipal court appoints the landlord-tenant officer, and changes to the system would likely have to come at the state level.

State Sen. Nikil Saval has sponsored legislation prohibiting cities from hiring private entities to enforce eviction orders, and Philadelphia lawmakers in the state House of Representatives are planning to introduce similar legislation.