Over 100 Penn Law students have signed an open letter calling on Philadelphia City Council members to support a proposed housing bill that would prevent unjust evictions.
The bill, which was introduced in October 2017, would require landlords to have a “good cause” to evict tenants or terminate their leases. Valid reasons include damaging property, not paying rent, and breaching a lease. The bill also aims to alleviate discriminatory practices, such as termination based on race or sexual orientation.
Penn Law students are promoting the legislation through the online petition, which has collected 176 signatures as of Nov. 26. According to the letter, there were 22,062 evictions filed in Philadelphia in 2016, resulting in 10,264 total evictions in that year. This was the fourth highest number of evictions for a large city in the U.S.
In September 2017, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney formed the Mayor's Task Force on Eviction Protection and Response to provide recommendations on how to reduce eviction. In the Task Force's report, which was released in June 2018, "good cause" legislation is listed as a legal policy recommendation.
"Landlords regularly force renters to move out of their housing for unjust and discriminatory reasons both during a lease and at the time of renewing a lease," the open letter read.
Student organizers are also taking additional steps to continue garnering support from city council members and Penn students before the bill is voted on next week.
Maddi Gray, a first-year Penn Law student and one of the petition's organizers, said students hand delivered a copy of the letter to every City Council member’s office on Nov. 27. They also set up a table in the Penn Law School lobby to engage other students on campus.
Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Bobby Henon, and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez did not respond to requests for comment. An assistant to Councilman Al Taubenberger, whose vote Gray said the students hoped to sway, said their staff had no record of receiving the open letter.
Gray said since many students are new residents of Philadelphia, many of them were surprised to learn that the bill's protections are not already in place.
First-year Penn Law student Sam Whillans, who also helped draft the letter, said they aimed to garner support from council members and to engage students with the greater Philadelphia community.
“As a law student, it’s easy to put blinders on and just interpret the law,” Gray said, adding that she hopes the open letter will make Law students “step back and think how this is affecting a whole class of people in Philadelphia."
Third-year Penn Law student Alyssa Chai said she signed the letter because she thinks the legislation will benefit native Philadelphia residents.
“Especially since I’m not from Philadelphia, and I’m moving in, I always want to be conscious of the effect that has on people who have been living in the city in certain areas for such a long time,” Chai said.
The legislation is scheduled to be voted on at the next Philadelphia City Council meeting on Dec. 6.
Gray and Whillans said even if the bill does not pass next week, they will still continue advocating for it. If the bill fails to pass at either of the two remaining City Council meetings for this year, however, it will have to be reintroduced in 2019.
"As a City Councilperson, we urge you to work in the interest of all of your constituents," the letter read. "That includes working-class constituents, poor constituents, and tenants who cannot afford the cost of a move for an unjust reason."