By Brad Watkins, Executive Director of the Mid South Peace and Justice Institute
Here at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center we work on a regular basis with low income renters across a variety of properties. A growing problem is the large numbers of illegal evictions in Shelby County performed by private process servers who in many cases never file with General Sessions for a forcible entry and detainer (FED) or Writ of Possession and perform evictions without proper notice or due process.
In many of these cases these private process servers intentionally dress in garb that infers that they are affiliated with law enforcement.
When a landlord has given proper 30 days written notice, they are supposed to file with general sessions so that the tenant can be served and made aware of the court date for the FED. At court the landlord may gain the FED and the Writ of Possession, which also gives the tenant in question proper notice to move out. However this does not always happen and we have encountered this in multiple cases in multiple apartments and other households.
If the landlord and process servers cannot produce the Writ Of Possession then they have no legal right to enter and remove the tenant from the property. In fact they are trespassing and in and of themselves, violating the resident’s right to peacefully enjoy the premises.
I am asking for your help. One of the main problems is that there is little to no oversight or accountability of these private process servers and the illegally evicted tenants have few to no recourse except civil litigation. Yet the reality is that these tenants now newly experiencing homelessness have little means to vindicate these rights in court.
We need to not only ensure that more evictions are being handled by the Sheriff’s office, where there are clearer lines of accountability and adherence to due process but also that MPD officers are trained and informed that if they are called to a scene of an illegal eviction and the landlord has no Writ of Possession then they should be intervening to protect the tenant from being harassed and the victim of breaking and entering.
Further, we need a larger conversation about proper oversight on these process servers to ensure that they are actually following the legal process.
This past Saturday, at the Bend Tree apartments, a mother of five was set to be illegally evicted. She received her eviction notice on the 20th and Friday afternoon was given written notice that she will be evicted in the AM.
She has never been served for her court date nor has she been served with the Writ of Possession. Fortunately, the landlord backed off of performing the illegal eviction this weekend but it’s only a matter of time and this is something we see quite often in our work.
She and I will call MPD when they attempt to evict her without due process but in some of these cases officers who are better informed tell the landlords and process servers that they cannot continue.
Officers who are not informed say that they cannot interfere in a civil matter and stand by while the crime of the illegal eviction continues. It’s a roll of the dice.
Calling MPD was the only option I was given after calling General Session and the SCSO.
I am asking for your attention and help on this matter as we feel that this could be addressed via greater communication and training and cooperation between departments.
We stand ready to assist in any way we can but this is a serious issue that happens a lot more often than many realize.
(Brad Watkins is the executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.)