Philadelphia, September 28, 2017 – Reiterating that squatters are trespassers, not tenants, Councilman David Oh (At Large) introduced legislation to establish and clarify civil procedures to deal with squatters and provide civil penalties for violators in this morning’s Council session.
Under this legislation, police are to notify squatters to vacate the premises within 48 hours. The owner of record is presumed to be the actual current owner. If the occupier can show credible evidence that he or she has authority to be there, then there is an expedited procedure for the court of competent jurisdiction to resolve the dispute within one month of filing the complaint with the court.
Councilman Oh repeated that squatters have no right to occupy the real property that they’ve inhabited. Unlike tenants, squatters have no rights to remain. They are trespassers committing a criminal act. He also emphasized that the widespread belief that Philadelphia has a “Squatters’ Rights Law” is nothing more than an urban myth.
In last week’s Council session, Councilman Oh shared about a recent situation in which a pastor went on vacation and came home to find that a squatter has taken up residence in his church’s adjacent house. This squatter changed the locks and refused to leave. The authorities failed to act, mistakenly believing that Philadelphia had a “Squatters’ Rights Law,” and instead referred the pastor to Landlord Tenant Court. Two-and-a-half months later, after the intervention of Councilman Oh, the police acted with the advice of the District Attorney and arrived at the house with a warrant. The squatter fled, avoiding arrest. While the property was damaged, the church once again has control over its own property and has changed the locks on the property once more.
This specific case may have been resolved, but several Council colleagues have reported similar issues. Councilman Oh said he hopes this legislation will bring an end to a lack of enforcement against squatters. “This measure will protect the rights of property owners against trespassers,” he said. “Philadelphia should not shield criminals. This bill is necessary to address a widely-practiced scam that denies property owners control over their own property.”
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Councilman David Oh is currently serving his second term as an At Large member of Philadelphia City Council. In January 2016, he was elected as Council’s Minority Whip by his colleagues. More information at phlcouncil.com/DavidOh