Philadelphia City Council has recently introduced two proposals to address the problem of trespassing into residential properties – a practice often described as “squatting.” As long-standing advocates for homeowners and tenants, we and Community Legal Services value the importance of preserving property rights, as well as protecting legitimate occupants from illegal lock outs and other illegal eviction practices.
This proposal threatens the rights of tenants and homeowners by requiring the police to forcibly remove people from properties if they cannot provide “credible evidence” of their right to be in the property within 48 hours. This means that the police department would have to remove people, without any discretion, each and every time an owner says that the property is occupied by squatters.
We have four main concerns regarding this bill. First, the bill operates on the assumption that rightful tenants and homeowners will have readily available written documents to prove their right to be in a property. However, in many cases, tenants are given oral leases which are completely valid and enforceable under Pennsylvania law. There is also the fact that over 14,000 properties in Philadelphia are inherited by title in the name of the deceased. Second, this bill saddles our already overtaxed police force with a burden that should belong to the courts. Third, landlords could exploit this bill as a way to get around the due process rights of tenants; it gives landlords the upper hand in all tenant-landlord disputes. Finally, this bill works against victims of domestic violence. Often times, in cases of domestic violence, the property will be only in the name of the abuser. This gives the abuser a way to impose economic control over their victims.
On November 6, 2017, the Law Center and Community Legal Services gave testimony in support of lawful tenants and homeowners. Click here to read our full list of concerns.