The state House of Representatives has approved a bill authored by Rep. Martina White that would create a process in which police would have greater authority to assist in the removal of a squatter.
House Bill 365 is meant to address situations whereby a person requests that the police remove illegal trespassers from their property but when the police arrive, the person claims to be a tenant or owner. Sometimes, the person will even present fraudulent documents to bolster the claim.
This puts police officers in a difficult situation, White believes, leaving them unable to act. The homeowner is left with no legal recourse other than proceeding with an eviction, which can take months and be very difficult and expensive, according to White.
“The issue of squatters in Philadelphia has gotten out of hand,” White said. “This is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. No one who has a home should be left homeless because someone illegally moved in and claim they have a right to live there.”
Under the bill, a property owner may initiate an investigation by filing an affidavit with the police. The affidavit is then signed under penalty of perjury, with a person who makes a false statement in an affidavit open to civil lawsuit for any damages resulting from the false statement.
If probable cause exists to believe the person is on the property unlawfully, a law enforcement officer will be required to obtain a search warrant and enter the property for the purpose of removing the person.
The bill does not prevent local municipalities from instituting additional protections.
White’s bill passed 155-44. All 44 votes in opposition came from Democrats, including Reps. Kevin Boyle, Joe Hohenstein, Jason Dawkins, Jared Solomon and Isabella Fitzgerald.
Among those voting for the bill were White and fellow Republican Rep. Tom Murt and Democratic Reps. Mike Driscoll and Ed Neilson.
House Bill 365 now goes to the Senate for consideration. ••