With over 143,000 foreclosure filings made in the last quarter in the US, it may come as no surprise that squatters are a common problem across the country. Squatters are people who unlawfully occupy a property that’s abandoned or unoccupied. Usually, the property is a residential home that the squatter doesn’t rent or have permission to use.
Squatters aren’t the same as holdover tenants, which are tenants that stay in a property illegally without paying rent. It should be noted that on June 18, the Philadelphia City Council extended the moratorium on the eviction of renters until August 31, 2020, and so tenants who haven’t paid rent during the COVID-19 crisis are still legally allowed to remain on the property until then. Squatters technically never had permission to live in the property at all.
A squatter may behave like they have rights to your property. Depending on the local laws in your area, squatters may actually have rights to your property, especially if they’ve been able to occupy the property for a long period of time.
Is squatting considered trespassing?
If you’re dealing with squatters, your first thought may be to contact the police for trespassing. Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, police have the power to remove trespassers and seize vehicles on land. However, squatters aren’t necessarily trespassers. Trespassing is considered a criminal offense, but squatting is a civil offense that typically requires a judicial eviction in the state of Pennsylvania.
It’s important to keep in mind that squatters may falsely claim a right to your property and may present fraudulent documents to law enforcement or to you showing that they “own” the property. Although this is illegal, squatters can only be arrested as criminal trespassers if they don’t meet the requirements for adverse possession, which provides them with rights to your property.
Squatters might also be safe from prosecution for trespassing is they beautify an unoccupied or abandoned property by making improvements or removing debris. Squatters may also be exempt from charges for trespassing is there’s a legitimate emergency that has resulted in the person seeking shelter in the unoccupied property.
What is adverse possession?
In the state of Pennsylvania, a squatter is able to claim rights to your unoccupied property after a certain time. If the squatter has resided in the property continuously for 21 years, then the person has the ability to make an adverse possession claim against you. In this situation, the squatter may be able to gain legal ownership of the property and is not considered a criminal trespasser.
However, for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim in Pennsylvania, they must meet five legal requirements. The occupation of the property must be:
- Hostile: In the legal sense, hostile is defined as the occupation of land. The person occupying the land may or may not be aware that they are trespassing at the time.
- Actual: The squatter must be physically present on the property as if they were the real homeowner.
- Open and Notorious: It must be obvious to anyone that a squatter is occupying the property.
- Exclusive: The squatter can’t share the possession of the land with other squatters, tenants, or the property owner.
- Continuous: The squatter must live in the property for 21 years to file an adverse possession claim. They can’t leave for weeks or months and later return to the property.
How do I get rid of squatters?
Pennsylvania has specific laws for removing squatters that vary based on location. In Philadelphia, property owners can file an affidavit that says they’re the legal owner of the property and that the squatters residing on the property have no legal right to be living there. Once the property owner files the affidavit, they can schedule a hearing with the Common Pleas Court.
Once at court, the judge may rule in favor of the property owner and can order the squatter to leave the property. The squatter may either be charged with a fine or may be given a 90-day jail sentence depending on the case. However, there are some ejectment processes the property owner may need to go through if the property is outside Philadelphia.
If the property is outside Philadelphia, the property owner may need to file an eviction against the squatter. The property owner will need to serve the squatter with a 10-Day Notice to Vacate, which is later followed up with a legal eviction filing with the county court. The hearing is scheduled and the ruling will most likely be made in favor of the property owner.
Contact your local house buyers
If you’re living in Philadelphia and you’re looking to sell your house, but can’t find home investors because you’re dealing with squatters, the experienced house buyers of Philly Home Investor can help. Our house buyers can assist in your situation, and we’ve helped many property owners remove squatters from their property. To learn more about how our house buyers can save you thousands in legal costs and wasted time by getting squatters off your property, contact Philly Home Investor today.