CRIMINAL AND DEFIANT TRESPASSERS BILL BECOMES LAW

In Allan Domb, Bobby Henon, Council News, David Oh, News by PHL Council

Philadelphia, September 13, 2018 –The bill outlining a much-needed new civil procedure for removing criminal and defiant trespassers from residential property, adopted by City Council in June, is now law, as Mayor Kenney allowed the bill to become law without his signature. The legislation was introduced by Councilman David Oh and was championed by Councilmembers Bobby Henon and Allan Domb.

This bill was crafted through a lengthy process that brought a wide range of perspectives to the table over the course of 8 months. In addition to individual homeowners and landlords who had been victims of criminal and defiant trespassing, the City’s Law Department (which had no legal concerns with the bill), the Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Association of REALTORS, numerous civic associations, Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center, the Tenant Union Representative Network, and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia all provided input throughout the process. In the end, the legislation that emerged from the public hearings was adopted by an 11-6 vote, with Council members Cindy Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Bobby Henon, Kenyatta Johnson, Brian O’Neill, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Mark Squilla, Al Taubenberger, and David Oh voting in favor.

Since the bill’s adoption by City Council, the Police Department has issued Directive 5.31, “Theft of Residential Real Property,” and will begin enforcement within the coming weeks. The upcoming implementation of the bill will be a welcome relief for homeowners; over a dozen homeowners and concerned neighbors contacted Councilman Oh’s office during the summer recess seeking guidance about how to remove criminal and defiant trespassers from properties across the city.

The bill clearly defines a criminal and defiant trespasser as an individual who occupies residential property without a title to the property, permission of the owner or authorized agent of said property, or a landlord-tenant relationship. When this bill goes into effect, the owner or authorized agent of a residential property can sign an affidavit form alleging that a criminal and defiant trespasser is occupying their property. Filing of the affidavit with the police will result in a prompt investigation by the police culminating with an incident report. Next, the filing of a complaint of ejectment supported by the affidavit form will lead to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia scheduling an emergency hearing within 5 business days, or any time deemed appropriate by the Court. Given sufficient evidence to prove that the alleged criminal and defiant trespasser is indeed a criminal and defiant trespasser, a judge shall grant an emergency preliminary injunction, order the criminal and defiant trespasser to vacate the premises, and authorize the issuance of a writ of possession. Thanks to this bill, criminal and defiant trespassing is punishable by a fine of up to $300 per day of violation and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days per day of violation.

To prevent abuse of this process by unscrupulous landlords seeking to evict tenants, any individuals who are found to make false statements in an attempt to eject someone who is not a criminal and defiant trespasser will be subject to the same penalties.

“I thank Mayor Kenney for allowing this bill to become law today,” said Councilman Oh. “In June, my Council colleagues and I voted in confidence that this bill will provide an effective solution that has been forged through vigorous discussion. I trust that through this process, victims will be able to work with law enforcement and the courts to find expedient, judicious resolutions to these egregious crimes.”

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