As residents of Philadelphia celebrate the District Attorney’s criminal charges against five people accused of stealing 14 homes, some real estate attorneys are pointing out the danger to the true owners of losing the properties forever.
Whenever there is theft of homes or other properties in Philadelphia, there is always a risk that an innocent person will buy the stolen property before the fraud is discovered. Although the law is clear that stolen title must be returned to the rightful owner, the situation is muddied when an innocent person unwittingly buys the property from the thief.
Michael Daiello, a real estate attorney who maintains a blog covering solutions to property disputes, works with defrauded property owners to recover their stolen properties.
“The unfortunate thing with these stolen title cases is that the true owner may never recover the property,” Daiello said. “The law protects innocent purchasers who didn’t know that the seller stole the title, but in some of these cases, the true owner would be left to pursue the thief for recovery of the financial loss.”
In 2019, The City of Philadelphia opened Fraud Guard, a tool that monitors land records to warn property owners of potential fraud. But some attorneys say the tool often does not protect the properties most vulnerable to theft.
“Generally speaking, the properties most at risk of theft are vacant, or in situations where the owner passed away and the heirs have not transferred title,” Daiello said. “Unresolved legal affairs create a danger that an inheritance property will be forever lost to theft. The best advice is to monitor the property carefully and take legal action quickly if fraud is suspected.”
The Philadelphia Police, Department of Records and District Attorney’s Office are all involved in stopping thefts like the one recently uncovered. City officials hope the collaboration puts an end to a mini-epidemic of deed fraud.
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