Measure meant to get tough on squatters fails in Philadelphia Council committee

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym opposed a measure meant to impose tough penalties for squatters, raising legal concerns with the bill. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym opposed a measure meant to impose tough penalties for squatters, raising legal concerns with the bill. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Stories about the hardship of getting rid of intruders who set up housekeeping  in a home they have no right to were not enough to propel legislation for stiffer penalties forward in Philadelphia.

Speaking before City Council members, some homeowners detailed the difficulties of getting squatters out of their houses.

Don McGee testified before the committee he was in the process of selling his old house on Akron Street in the Frankford neighborhood when he found people had moved in, claiming they had a lease.

That was five months ago.

“There’s 10 people squatting in the house, 10 people,” he said. “We entered into the legal process and were told the district attorney’s office can do nothing … Licenses and Inspection, nothing. Police department, nothing.”

It took so long to remove squatters from Carla Waychoff’s home, she said, that she sold it for $30,000 less than the first offer.

“We were able to get back into our home because the electric company came, and I asked the sergeant what was the best way for me to prevent this from happening until I sold my home,” she said. “And he asked if I had a license to carry a gun.”

Councilwoman Helen Gym opposed the measure that would have squatters facing jail time or fines of $300 a day.  The Law Department also raised concerns. Councilman David Oh’s bill was voted down by the committee 4-to-1, with Oh the only vote in favor of it.  However Committee Chairman Alan Domb, who has one of the biggest real estate companies in the city, said he wants a compromise acceptable to all worked out within 30 days.

Editor’s note: This is post has been updated. It now clarifies the committee vote, making clear Councilwoman Gym was not the only one opposed.

 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.