Council members Bobby Henon and David Oh announced a new law intended to speed up the process in illegal squatting incidents.
On Oct. 19, Council members Bobby Henon and David Oh announced a new law intended to crack down on illegal squatters.
“I’m excited to stand here to announce that we’ve done something that will be great to the benefit and protection to the homeowners of Northeast Philadelphia and citywide,” Henon said.
The law creates a civil process that allows homeowners to conduct immediate police investigation when squatters break into their homes and change the locks. It is intended to speed up what had previously proven to be a lengthy process that could take several months.
Oh introduced the law, which was adopted by Council in June.
“It is the first time in decades we have a law that really stands for common-sense protection of home ownership and protection of the family,” Oh said. “I can tell you this is a problem everywhere in Philadelphia.”
Oh described how going through court could take several months without this law.
“You get back from vacation, you bring your mother home from three months in the hospital, and your key doesn’t work,” he said.
In many of these cases, police had their hands tied or the homeowner could end up in the wrong court.
“An expedited hearing could take about six months, if not longer,” Oh said. “People are just frustrated why our government is allowing criminals to break into your house, extort you for thousands of dollars to return your keys to you.”
The law could have squatters looking at 90 days in jail plus a $300 per day fine.
The announcement took place on the 3400 block of Princeton Ave. in Mayfair. Resident George Keifer spoke about discovering squatters with pit bulls had broken into his brother’s house after his brother went to a home after having a stroke.
“His big hope is to come home to his home,” Keifer said.
Keifer said the squatters did leave, but not before passing the keys off to other squatters. Keifer said police couldn’t deal with the problem and he kept “making phone calls and finding closed doors.”
“If I understand it right, this could have gone on indefinitely,” he said.
The Philadelphia Police Department has received a new directive in light of the law. Chief Inspector Carl Holmes said police will also rely on state law, which supplies officers with checklists and guidelines when they encounter people who claim there are squatters on their property.
“We’re looking to document the issue at hand and hopefully come to a civil remedy, meaning all parties agree someone owns the house and somebody’s not supposed to be there,” he said. “If that’s not the case, we will not hesitate if the factors and reasonable suspicions rise to the level of probable cause and we need to make an arrest.” ••