Eviction: Knotty question of morality

What is accomplished by demonstrating to society that someone, for whatever reason, was not up to his/her responsibilities? Photo: Painting of a 19th Century eviction by Erik Henningsen

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., July 2, 2012 — Every time I happen upon items on the sidewalk from an eviction, I can’t help but cringe. Are we all responsible for the events and process that put the evidence of someone’s life in display for all of us to wonder? What is accomplished by demonstrating to society that someone, for whatever reason, was not up to his/her responsibilities?

Looking through my county’s laws and procedures for evictions, I saw a series of steps that a landlord has to follow to finally throw out the tenant’s belongings to the sidewalk and make it the responsibility of the municipality. I suspect that many other counties follow a similar process. Without getting into too much detail, the process is as follows:

* The landlord decides that the tenant has violated the leasing agreement because of over-staying, failure to pay rent or for violation of some clause of the agreement, including pets, too many residents, etc. Of course I am not mentioning reasons that are criminal, like having a meth lab in the apartment, which are handled in a different manner;

*Usually the landlord notifies the tenant that for some particular reason or reasons he has to leave the property within 30 days;

*If the tenant refuses to leave or comply with the clauses in the agreement or both, the landlord can take the tenant to court;

*If the landlord demonstrates his/her case, the judge orders the sheriff to execute the eviction.

*If the tenant has emptied the premises, the landlord is allowed to have his agents carry the items left in the property and deposit them on the sidewalk outside the dwelling.

One of my bosses when I was just starting professionally was a slum landlord (he is now a millionaire). He would boast that he knew a lawyer that for $25 would evict anyone. He would tell us that after his other tenants saw the furniture of the evictee on the sidewalk, he would have an increase of compliance in rents and other leasing clauses.

Eviction on Lower East Side of New York

He believed that using the shame of someone to make his business work better was perfectly and morally appropriate. He would also tell us that he refused to talk or communicate with the other parties except as mandated by law.

During the Middle Ages this type of conduct was used extensively. People that somehow violated some norm of conduct were forced to present themselves in front of his/her neighbors in a shameful posture.

People were tarred and feathered, whipped, made to go naked or were put in blocks with signs indicating their acts. Many were forced to suffer physical harm, even before they were finally killed. Similar acts were also common in the Western frontier of the US during pioneer days.

Takes me back to my college days when living in a modest apartment in students/working class neighborhoods, it wasn’t unusual to see the sidewalk clogged with old stained furniture, broken radios, kitchen utensils, and other similar items. One could say that these items demonstrate the minimum that a person needs to live in an urban center. A survey would probably give market analyst an accurate list of items that everyone has to have for a minimalist existence.

Don’t you find it strange that a landlord can trash out common areas with items that in many case would be considered trash? Do you wonder what would happen if you would take out the content of your junk room and leave it on the sidewalk? In many neighborhoods this would be seen as antisocial, especially if your trash haul provider would not take it away.

I have been against it this barbaric practice from the first time I first saw it. I conjure up all kinds of scenarios of why someone’s possessions would be put on display to the community where s/he lived or lives. I try to see past the physical evidence as to why a person can be put or put him/herself in the position like this. Romantically, I may speculate that maybe the person is physically or mentally impaired and couldn’t avoid it.

In many cases, I suspect the tenant was given every chance to make good on his rental agreement and because of some moral flaw or circumstance was not able to do the right thing. It can also be that the items that were finally hauled out to the curb were of no value to the tenant and s/he was happy to get rid of them. I have also seen how a group of teenagers destroyed a property and eventually tried to burn it when they were evicted.

But…at the end I leave the scene feeling as if we all failed this person. That something could have been done to prevent it. There should be a more civilized way of dealing with the tenant’s failure to live up to a contract. That maybe a more civilized approach is to store the tenant’s belongings until he can recover them.

Of course I know that this may not be practical and that there isn’t unlimited space and funds to do this for everyone. Finally, what if the tenant can never recover the items? Should they still end up in the landfill?

Maybe others that don’t have the tendency to overanalyze and are not bleeding hearts just ignore the pile of leavings. Maybe they congratulate themselves for not being in the shoes of the evicted tenant. Others may be more knowledgeable of the circumstances and would have reacted accordingly by helping the poor soul or just ignoring the display on the sidewalk.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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