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At Least 28 Philly Judges Are Also Landlords. Some Of Them Aren't Following The Letter Of The Law

A series of violent lockout incidents turned a bright light onto how Philadelphia's courts deal with landlords. Now, a news investigation has uncovered that in some cases, the two are one and the same.


At least 28 judges in Philadelphia — some in the city's Municipal Court, some in the Court of Common Pleas — also own rental properties, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Several judges didn't have current rental licenses until the Inquirer called, and three are still unlicensed landlords. Five city judges have been either sued by the city for unpaid taxes and fees or hit with violations by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Common Pleas Judge Ramy Djerassi is the most prolific landlord of the group. His company, RID Properties, owns at least 36 units across five properties in Rittenhouse Square and has been cited by L&I and sued by the city over unpaid taxes and bills several times each, the Inquirer reported. He told the Inquirer he leaves all such matters in the hands of his property management company.

Another judge blamed her expired rental license on red tape from the city in granting her a lead inspection certificate, and a third said her ailing husband was in charge of a property that was several years behind on property taxes, the Inquirer reported.

The vast majority of housing cases in Philly are heard by municipal judges in the 1st District of Pennsylvania, but the Court of Common Pleas is where all appeals of eviction judgments, whether from tenants or landlords, are tried as brand-new cases, said Riquan King, an attorney for the Tenant Union Representative Network, a local legal aid organization.

Even if judges recuse themselves from any case that involves their own rental properties, the idea that a judge may identify or empathize with landlords in housing cases is destructive to public trust in the justice system, King told Bisnow.

“It still raises questions of bias because these judges all work together," King said. "So even if they’re not associated with a property involved in the case, their colleague could be. So as a member of the public, if you want your judge to be unbiased in your case, it raises a lot of questions.”

Though the Inquirer found only a small number of judges without rental licenses, they are far from alone. As much as 45% of rental properties in Philly are unlicensed, according to estimates from researchers at The Pew Charitable Trusts. With rental licenses being both easy and cheap to obtain and renew, being out of compliance in that area is often accompanied by more serious violations, the Inquirer reported.

Because L&I is so understaffed, Philly only inspects rental properties when it receives formal complaints, per the Inquirer. With enforcement lacking, a lawsuit — or the threat of one — is one of the most effective weapons a tenant has in holding a landlord accountable for issues at a property. 

For a judge to not just rent properties but do so without a license and/or with open code violations is especially problematic because of the discretion that judges have to decide punishment in housing cases, King said.

“Every once in a while, I have raised an eyebrow hearing how a case was decided, knowing the details of the case,” he said. “Those judgments make me wonder, ‘How was this decision made?’ And after seeing this article, I wonder, ‘Did you make this ruling because it could have an impact on you six months, a year, six years down the line?’”