Proposal to work against ‘squatter’s rights’

Pennsylvania tenants and homeowners may soon get clear legislative guidance overcoming improperly claimed “squatter’s rights.”

On Wednesday, the state Senate OK’d a clear outline for property owners to remove squatters who have claimed rights to a dwelling that conflicts with state law.

“This legislation is about more than just laws and regulations,” said Sen Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s about restoring a sense of security and justice for those who invested their dreams, savings and emotions into their properties. Senate Bill 1236 ensures that legitimate tenants are protected while closing the door to those who exploit our system to illegally occupy homes.”

Reclaiming properties is an exhausting and painful process, Laughlin noted in a press release. It requires the issuance of a “notice to quit” to illegitimate occupants – imposing financial and emotional burdens on property owners.

The bill, he said, establishes a precise legal status for squatters and empowers property owners, granting them the tools they need to safeguard their homes and investments quickly and effectively without wading through needless red tape.

The term “squatter’s rights” refers to the legal concept of adverse possession. In Pennsylvania, squatters can potentially claim legal ownership of a property after 21 years of continuous, exclusive and visible possession.

A recent trend, however, involves people moving into homes while the owners are away — and the process of removing them can be time-consuming and expensive.

“Imagine coming home, only to find strangers occupying the space where you’ve created cherished memories, and then being told that removing them will require a costly and prolonged legal battle,” Laughlin said. “It’s a situation that would fill anyone with frustration and despair.”

Under Pennsylvania law, such squatters would be considered trespassers once the landowner warns them they are not welcome and tells them to leave. Should they remain where they are not licensed or entitled to be, they commit the offense of defiant trespass.

Similar bills are being discussed in the House.

House Bill 2237, introduced by Rep. Donna Scheuren, R-Gilbertsville, would give law enforcement more authority to remove trespassers upon probable cause based on a signed affidavit by the homeowner, and imposes increased penalties for property damage.

Additionally, it would require law enforcement to inform Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the squatter is an undocumented immigrant and to comply with any detainer lodged against them.

Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, proposed a similar bill that also includes holding property owners or alleged squatters criminally and civilly liable for making false statements.


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