Philly Council takes aim at urban squatting scam

Councilman Al Taubenberger said some property owners have become homeless through the urban squatting scam. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Councilman Al Taubenberger said some property owners have become homeless through the urban squatting scam. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council is working to close a legal loophole that prevents evictions — even when a house is rented out by someone who doesn’t own the place.

It may sound unbelievable that someone could break into your house and then rent it out to an unsuspecting tenant. But City Councilman Al Taubenberger said it occurs, especially in Northeast Philadelphia.

“What happens is somebody comes into your home … you might have been away on vacation, you might have been renovating it to sell it,” he said of the various ways a property could be infiltrated, then leased out before an owner becomes aware.

Councilman Alan Domb, a real estate agent, said the scam has gone high tech using internet advertising.

“People who are claiming they own properties, advertising them, signing leases — even though they don’t own the property,” he said. “They’re collecting money from tenants who are being told they can move in. They move in and find out that the people they gave money to don’t own the property.”

Many times, the swindled renters will refuse to vacate the residence. And the true owners are having a difficult time removing the squatters because they have a lease, said Domb. Current law prevents police from evicting these tenants as long as they have that paperwork.

Taubenberger said he’s seen the true owners made homeless through the deception.

City Council plans to hold hearings on the new version of urban squatting.

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