Navigating Philadelphia’s New Fast-Track Ejectment Actions
How Philadelphia’s new ordinance for dealing with ‘criminal and defiant trespassers’ offers recourse for investors and property owners
For years, Philadelphia-focused investors have been frustrated, and sometimes deterred, by having to rely on costly and time-consuming legal process to evict holdover occupants in properties purchased at sheriff sale. Historically, individuals whose properties were sold at sheriff sale could hire an attorney to defend the ejectment action and prolong eviction for upwards of six months to a year without having a meritorious defense. However, on September 13, 2018, the Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance adding Section 10-840, which provides emergency recourse for owners in removing “criminal and defiant trespassers from real property,” under certain terms and conditions.
In a continuing trend of investor-friendly legislation, the City Council passed this ordinance to defeat growing concerns that defiant occupants “gaming” the legal system could deter would be investors from purchasing and making use of Philadelphia properties. This ordinance is consistent with City Council’s trend of promoting the vast economic development seen over the past decade.
Because the legislation is relatively new, it’s important to consult with counsel to assist in evaluating the conditions required to qualify for and navigating the legal processes utilized in securing the emergency relief. These conditions and processes are outlined below:
Generally, it’s most important that the party you are trying to evict has no legal basis to remain in the property. Specifically, the owner of the property must sign an affidavit with the moving papers asserting that: (1) the affiant is the owner; (2) the occupant is not licensed or privileged to be on said residential property; (3) there has never been a landlord-tenant relationship between the owner or a prior owner and the occupant; and, if relevant, (4) that the owner requires the assistance of the Philadelphia Police because the owner believes a crime is being committed.
In addition to satisfying the affidavit requirements, the owner must be able to demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the owner will prevail in the underlying ejectment action. Examples of defenses to the ejectment action specifically referenced in the ordinance include occupants with a claim for adverse possession (claiming right to title by open, continuous, and hostile possession for a period of twenty-one (21) years); asserting that the owner gave the occupant permission to reside in the property; and any other behavior that may suggest the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship.
If the owner is able to satisfy the above conditions, he or she should consult an attorney about expediting the ejectment action.
Under the ordinance, owners wishing to evict criminal or defiant trespassers begin the process by filing a complaint in ejectment in the Court of Common Pleas. Once the complaint is filed, under the ordinance, aggrieved owners are instructed to file an emergency motion for injunctive relief asserting that the conditions required to obtain the immediate writ of possession have been met. The motion must be presented to the Court within 24-48 hours of filing the motion.
Assuming all conditions have been met and the judge grants the motion, the owner may file a writ of possession with the Court. The stamped writ along with the Court’s order granting possession may be presented to the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office for service. The Sheriff’s office will serve or post the writ of possession in approximately five (5) days from receipt and designate a lock-out date approximately twenty-one (21) days thereafter.
This process, which takes approximately three months start to finish, is a stark difference between the six months to a year it could take to litigate any defended ejectment action. Hiring an attorney that is familiar with the new legislation and associated procedures can save owners thousands of dollars in legal fees and get owners access to and possession of their property several months sooner than before the City Council passed the ordinance.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.