Squatters are tormenting homeowners and landlords in Philadelphia, but one property management company says city officials and police just don’t seem to care.
“We might actually have a court order to remove a squatter, but the sheriff gets there and if the squatter refuses to leave, they will not want to escalate the conflict,” said Walter Lapidus, owner of Anchor Realty NE. “They’ll just leave and force us to refile the” writ of possession.
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Homeowners across the United States are fighting drawn-out and costly legal battles to remove squatters. In Philadelphia, it can cost upwards of $3,500 to even begin the court process to remove squatters from a residence plus $1,600 to actually move the suspects out and store their belongings for a month, Megan Spangler of Anchor Realty NE told Fox News.
“We’re dealing with almost a year to get these people out,” Spangler said. “It is a very lengthy process. It’s a very expensive one, too.”
Lapidus said he thought the city was heading in the right direction several years ago when the council passed an ordinance speeding up the process for removing alleged squatters from residential property and imposing a fine of up to $300 per day that the trespassing continues, plus jail time. It also authorized police to investigate squatting accusations and file affidavits for arrest or search warrants.
“The police refuse to do that,” Lapidus said. “And the process itself … has actually only gotten longer rather than shorter. So there is no enforcement of this. And in fact, most of the people you ask today don’t even know that this bill was ever passed.”
The Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to questions about its process for responding to squatting reports.
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Former city council member David Oh, who is now running for Philadelphia mayor, was behind the original ordinance in 2018. But within months of its passage, another council member introduced a similar bill that “basically gutted all the protections to homeowners and actually created loopholes that anyone could claim,” Oh said.
The replacement law, passed later that year, sought to balance “penalties for criminals and protections for victims and rightful dwellers,” according to sponsor Cherelle Parker.
It reduced the fines and jail time that could be levied against squatters, allowed more time for alleged squatters to leave if they claimed they’d fallen for a rental scam and protected alleged squatters from being removed if they claimed to have been a victim of domestic violence or sexual harassment by the owner of the property or someone else who recently lived at the property.
The changes make the law unusable, Oh said.
“The opposition to [my] bill was, ‘People in other people’s homes is a way to address homelessness,'” he said.
Oh’s bill stipulated homeowners must never have had a landlord-tenant relationship with the alleged squatter. But opponents viewed using law enforcement or courts to remove squatters as creating a “slippery slope where landlords and other persons will start using the police to remove people when they have a legitimate claim to be in a property,” he said.
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As a Philadelphia resident, Spangler said the lack of action from the city is frustrating.
“I’m one of these people that live in these neighborhoods,” she said. “I have to deal with squatters and people you’re locking out, and they don’t care about the neighborhood.”
She added, “I don’t think the citizens know what they’re getting into when they’re voting for our public officials … certain people are out for our best interests and a lot of them are not.”