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CLS Supports Amendments to "Squatter" Laws

Homeownership and Consumer, Housing

CLS Supports Amendments to "Squatter" Laws

City Council is considering two pending bills to address criminal trespass and fraudulent leasing of properties.  These bills, 180741 and 180978, put forward by Councilwoman Parker and sponsored by several other members of City Council, seek to balance the rights of homeowners and victims of crimes. CLS supports these bills and urges Philadelphians to contact City Council members in support.

Nothing in the bills reduces the rights that already exist for homeowners to seek redress from the police or the courts.   The courts have always been available to homeowners to seek emergency ejectments when circumstances justify it.  City Council does not have the authority to change anything regarding the court’s process for handling such cases.  Similarly, nothing in the law or the bills changes the criminal laws of the Commonwealth.  The Philadelphia Police Department has worked to create clear guidance to all members of its force on how to properly investigate and refer for prosecution those situations that involve criminal activity, including criminal trespass.  Nothing in the City’s law or the bills changes that. 

We agree that Philadelphia needs to address the problem of criminal trespassers.  We need a system that is easily accessed by victims, responsive to complaints, and capable of careful and complete review of accusations to determine the merits of accusations of criminal activity.  The Criminal and Defiant Trespasser law enacted by City Council in June attempts to address these issues, but in doing so, it subjects many non-criminals to potential fines or jail time simply for living in a house they have a right to be in, or which they honestly believe they have a right to be in. 

The City law in its current form does not protect previous owners of property who have lost a property via the sheriff’s sale process, victims of domestic violence, people living in a property with permission from an owner but who never had tenancy relationship, and victims of scams.  Bill 180741 proposes amendments to address these flaws in the original law and provide a more balanced approach that honors the various rights people have over a property.  The bill has widespread support which includes the District Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department, Senior Law Center, Public Interest Law Center, Tenant Union Representative Network, and Community Legal Services, to name a few.  It is for all these reasons that CLS supports the passage of Bill 180741.

Philadelphia has a robust network of legal resources for homeowners facing difficulties with their primary residences.  The Save Your Home Philly Hotline, 215-334-HOME (4663), is able to provide free brief advice and referrals to housing counselors and lawyers for eligible homeowners.