Dealing with a squatter who refuses to leave a property is immensely frustrating and emotionally taxing. A squatter may rob you of rental income or jeopardize a real estate deal. Squatters can impact property owners, sellers, heirs to a property, estate administrators, people who wish to buy a property and purchasers of properties sold at a sheriff’s sale.
What is a squatter?
A squatter is a person who does not have a legal basis for remaining in a property. A squatter is different from a tenant. A tenant is a person who had an agreement with the owner to pay rent even if that agreement was not in writing. A squatter is a person who entered a property by some reason other than payment of rent.
Here are some examples of squatters:
- criminal who broke into a vacant property and stayed
- relative or heir of a property owner who passed away
- former owner of a property who lost the property to a mortgage foreclosure or tax sale
- person invited into the property but refused to leave
- person who had a lease with a previous owner of the property
- person falsely claiming they bought the property without any legitimate proof
How long does it take to remove a squatter in Philadelphia?
Most people believe that the police should quickly remove a trespasser without the need for a lawsuit. However, a lengthy court process may be required if the trespasser has been in the property for a significant time. Since the squatter is not a tenant, a property owner cannot use the relatively fast eviction process.
Unlike an eviction, a lawsuit called an “ejectment” must be filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Ejectment litigation involves the filing of a complaint, service and a possible trial before a judge.
What problems can a squatter create?
Squatters often take advantage of the lengthy court process. Here are some of the risks of squatters remaining in a property:
- They may demand a substantial cash payment in exchange for the keys. A savvy squatter may calculate their demand by multiplying their estimated rent over a one year period.
- Destruction or damage to the property
- Delay in your ability to fix dangerous conditions in the property which risks injury to others and liability claims against you
- Code enforcement actions by the City of Philadelphia for your failure to correct defects
What solutions might I have to remove a squatter?
- Pay the squatter “cash for keys” – often equal to one year of rent
- Convince the squatter to sign a written lease and file an eviction when rent is not paid
- Engage the squatter in an oral lease, obtain proof of the squatter’s rent payments, and file an eviction when the squatter stops paying
- File an ejectment action to have the squatter removed
- Use the Philadelphia Criminal and Defiant Trespasser Law, if there are proper grounds to do so. An emergency hearing may result in a prompt removal of the squatter.
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