WHEREAS, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association passed a resolution on June 27, 1996, authorizing the Chancellor to establish a Task Force to examine the Tenants Action Group (TAG) report titled, Court Watch, [fn1] review the manner in which Philadelphia Municipal Court landlord/tenant hearings are conducted and submit a report and recommendations to the Board;
WHEREAS, the Chancellor created a Task Force in response to the June resolution of the Board and that Task Force, which was made up of landlord and tenant representatives and the Supervising Judge of the Civil Division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, met from October 1996 through January 1997 and heard from landlord and tenant advocates as well as Muncipal Court staff;
WHEREAS, the Task Force issued a written report with unanimous recommendations, together with additional comments and suggestions which were joined in by two of its six voting members, and the entirety of which was accepted by the Board of Governors at its February 20, 1997 meeting;
WHEREAS, these issues go beyond questions of procedure and real property law, and impact on basic due process, access to the courts, and the protection of the essentials of life, i.e. shelter;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association authorizes the Chancellor and Board of Governors to take all necessary steps to implement the following unanimous recommendations of the Landlord/tenant Court Task Force:
(A) Changing the rules governing appeals in landlord/tenant matters to permit tenants who qualify for In Forma Pauperis status (IFP) to appeal, and to remain in the premises pending appeal, without posting money otherwise required; such rule would not relieve these tenants of the obligation to deposit ongoing rent as it comes due until the appeal is decided;
(B) Making the time for filing appeals in residential and commercial matters uniform at 30 days, and
(C) Taking additional measures to fully implement ihe other unanimous recommendations of the Task Force, including
(i) revising the brochure on procedures for landlord-tenant court pursuant to the recommendations of the Honorable Barbara Gilbert, to be made available in English and Spanish and to be mailed with the complaint at the time of service;
(ii) creating a video presentation on court procedures, sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association, and installing the video at an appropriate location outside the courtroom where it would be shown continuously, and making such video available to any interested groups;
(iii) creating a liaison between the court and the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections so that both can be advised immediately of any uncorrected violations applicable to pending cases, and of the currency of that information, and installing computers to make that information available;
(iv) making additional efforts to assure that adequately-funded and knowledgeable legal services are available to tenants through the Philadelphia Bar Association, Community Legal Services, tenant organizations and local law schools, so that every tenant has competent representation regardless of income;
(v) creating, in consultation with the Senior Lawyers Committee, an ombudsman to assist litigants to understand and navigate the court system and otherwise assist in the administration of justice in landlord/tenant court;
(vi) establishing standards and procedures to assure that all parties in landlord/tenant court are treated with equal courtesy and respect; and
(vii) providing more extensive training for judges on landlord/tenant matters, on a frequent and ongoing basis, including periodic legal updates at Ihe Municipal Court's Semi-Annual Judicial Education Conferences;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association authorizes the Chancellor and Board of Governors to take all necessary steps to implement the following additional measures:
(A) Advising and assisting the Philadelphia Municipal Court to recommend to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the rule changes concerning IFP status on appeal and the appeal time period set forth above;
(B) Taking appropriate actions to help insure that the full scope of all applicable law[fn2] be applied in each individual matter before the Municipal Court; and
(C) Authorizing the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association to communicate to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, through all appropriate means, the Association's support for all of the recommendations listed above.
1. The Tenants Action Group (TAG), through donated time of professors and students from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study of the Landlord/Tenant Division of the Philadelphia Muncipal Court in the Spring of 1996.
The study, known as Court Watch found significant problems, and that among those problems are: an extremely high (92%) eviction rate; the entry against tenants of unappealable judgments by agreement, the significance of which tenants do not understand; short hearings (five minute average), the duration of which raises questions about basic fairness; the failure of the court to allow significant numbers of pro se litigants to testify or present evidence; the failure of the court to apply and follow basic landlord/tenant law, to the detriment of tenants; court procedures and practices that favor landlord attorneys who file in bulk and who often appear in court without their clients.
(2) Such provisions include, but are not limited to, City Code Sections addressing housing violations, rental licenses and lead contamination, as well as decisional landlord/tenant law of the Commonwealth such as the warranty of habitability as found in Pugh v. Holmes, 486 Pa. 272; 405 A.2d 897 (1979), and its progeny.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: November 25, 1997