A young woman stumbling along shimmies her way through the back door of an abandoned house to stay the night. The next night she does the same and continues for weeks after that until she’s made herself comfortable.
Trespasser, Squatter, or Tenant?
Too easy? You would think….
Okay, how about, a businessman who is in town for a few months rents an apartment. He signs a lease, pays a security deposit and 1st month’s rent upon move-in, but a few weeks later, a man is at his door claiming he has to move out.
In the first scenario, the landlord would consider this a trespasser, and in the second scenario, the businessman would consider himself a tenant. But squatters rights in Philadelphia PA may have more to say.
The law may not be able to cover it all, but there are some straightforward situations between these three terms, and specific ways to deal with each:
- Trespasser: Time is key here as it’s the main difference between Philadelphia squatters and trespassers. If someone without authorization accesses the property temporarily, they would be considered a trespasser.
- If you’re dealing with a trespasser, call the police.
- Squatter: anyone who occupies a property consecutively as their sole residence without legal authorization.
- We’ll be talking all about what this means and what to do here so you’re at the right place.
- Tenant or Holdover Tenant: This is anyone you have a landlord-tenant relationship with. This may be through a written or verbal lease. Even if the lease has expired and they refuse to leave, which would classify them as a holdover tenant. In other words, anyone you’ve collected compensation from for residing at the property.
To best determine how to evict a squatter in Philadelphia, let’s get into more detail on how to ID them!
A neighbor calls you because someone is breaking through your window. Clear, cut and dry, trespassing; call the police.
You purchase a foreclosed home, but the previous owner won’t leave – squatter. A previous tenant’s ex who wasn’t on the lease won’t move out – squatter. A random person moves in and refuses to leave, come on, together now – 1, 2, 3: SQUATTER!
Here are some of the criteria which may sway law enforcement or a judge to classify your uninvited guest as a Philadelphia squatter instead of a trespasser:
- Has been living on the property for more than two weeks (although this one falls into a grey area)
- Maintains and/or beautifies the property
- Transfers to their name, or pays, utilities
- Pays property taxes
- Has their mail delivered to the property
- Moved in furniture
- Has a legitimate emergency to access the property without authorization
Now, time for the disclaimer. Each jurisdiction and judge may have different criteria to identify who falls under Philadelphia squatters rights. There is also some ambiguity if you purchase a property knowing they are squatters, so in that case, it wouldn’t hurt to consult with an attorney first.
One important distinction is that trespassing is a criminal offense while squatting is handled by the civil courts. This is critical because, while you should steer away from taking either matter into your own hands, if you unlawfully remove a squatter, you may face legal consequences.
This is referred to as an improper or self-help eviction, as defined in Section 9-1602 (i.e. changing the locks, cutting off utilities, threatening the tenant, using force, removing their belongings, etc.). So even though the first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club, leave the crew at Lou’s Tavern.