Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Social Welfare

First Advisor

Kenwyn Smith


This dissertation analyzes Philadelphia's Landlord-Tenant Court (L-T Court) within organizational and policy contexts. It identifies the factors that influence the outcome of private landlord-tenant trials, describes people's experience of the courtroom from multiple perspectives, and analyzes the Municipal Court's intraorganizational and interorganizational dynamics that inform L-T Court's behavior. Housing courts have been mandated to prevent the deterioration of existing housing stock by protecting landlords' property rights and tenants' rights to a habitable dwelling. Landlords have long had the right to receive rent and to hold tenants responsible for property damage; recent changes in landlord-tenant law have established tenants' right to receive habitable, safe homes. It is only in the protection of both rights that these courts can help preserve affordable, adequate rental housing.

This study employs mixed method, single-case study design that utilizes quantitative, case study, and ethnographic methodologies. The combined methods establish a complementary, holistic approach that triangulates methods and data to derive convergent findings. Multiple regression of the judge's identity and actions, litigants' legal strategy, contest participant characteristics, and case characteristics on trial outcomes is based on trial transcript, in-court observation, and court administrative data. Case study analysis is based on interviews with trial participants, including landlords, tenants, attorneys, judges, and court staff and trial transcripts. Ethnographic analysis is based on informal discussions with and observations of disputants, judges, court staff, and others who interact with the court system that surrounds L-T Court. The study also employs a theoretical bundle comprised of autopoiesis, territoriality, paradox theory, and street level bureaucracy to analyze L-T Court's organizational behavior.

The study's central finding is that L-T Court propagates substantive and procedural policies that diverge from theoretically binding common law and basic jurisprudential expectations. This divergence can be explained by Municipal Court's organizational dynamics within a legal and regulatory environment. The study concludes that policies designed to strengthen the supply of affordable housing must incorporate the interests of both landlords and tenants. Policy recommendations address the legal representation gap between landlords and tenants, the weak court linkage with legal and administrative organizations, and other areas that prevent effective rental housing regulation.

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