Measure to protect homeowners from squatters advances on its second try

Pat Loeb
June 04, 2018 - 5:14 pm
Herleen English speaks to City Council members about squatters taking over property.

Pat Loeb | KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A City Council committee approved a bill to protect homeowners from squatters taking over their property.

The committee previously rejected similar legislation from Councilman David Oh but gave the go-ahead to this version after hearing several testimonies.

Numerous homeowners told horror stories of being locked out of their own property after a brief absence — for vacation, illness, renovation plans —and being powerless to remove people who moved in with no authorization. 

Herleen English told of a case that has dragged on for months.

"Can you imagine paying a mortgage on a property and a squatter has more rights on that property than the person who is paying it?" she said.

The bill calls for new police protocols for such cases and faster court action to resolve them. 

Tenants' rights advocates testified that they feared the bill was too broad, but Oh said the city must act.

"This problem has existed in Philadelphia for decades [and] is getting worse," he said.

City Council also created a task force to study the problem.

In another measure protecting homeowners' rights, a different City Council committee advanced a ban on camping on a homeowner's property without permission. 

The bill was prompted by encampments of homeless drug users that have sprung up in Kensington

Homeless advocates testified against the ban, but the bill's co-sponsor, Councilman Mark Squilla, said the recent eviction of two of the encampments — which resulted in more than 100 people receiving shelter, including 35 who entered treatment — showed there is a better way to provide homeless services.

He said City Council must weigh efforts to help the homeless with the rights of homeowners to determine whether someone camps in their yard.

The committee also advanced new parking rules and bike lane designations on Pine Street between Front and Broad streets — one of the city's most heavily used bike routes. 

The new bike lanes will be on the left side of the street, which witnesses said will improve safety. 

They said better bike lanes might have prevented the death of 24-year-old Becca Refford, who was struck by a private trash hauler at 11th and Spruce streets last November.

All of the bills now advance to the full council for a vote.