When their father died, my wife and her two siblings inherited a townhouse in northern Philadelphia. All of them lived outside of Pennsylvania so they were thinking about renting out the property.

There was however some concerns about the overall condition of the house and uncertainties about their legal responsibilities if they become landlords. So until now they have not gotten the house to what they felt was a suitable condition for renting it out.

They did however find out a couple of days ago when one of their friends visited the property that the padlocks had been changed and that there seemed to be squatters in the house.

The question I needed to ask:

What legal processes need to be followed, if any, to get squatters out of a house in Philadelphia?


First you need to verify the presence of squatters, as opposed to trespassers. The fact that the locks are changed suggests you've got people living in there on a non-temporary basis, which is the primary distinction between the two groups. It wouldn't hurt to also ask the police to take action; if they tell you it's a civil issue, that helps persuade the courts that you're dealing with squatters rather than trespassers, who can just be arrested.

If the police can't get them out, you'll probably want to get a lawyer to file a complaint for ejectment in the common pleas court. The process is typically not terribly complex or time-consuming, so a competent attorney should be able to secure a judgment without racking up huge bills.

After you have a judgment, you'll need to have it enforced. That's usually done by the sheriff's office, which can order the squatters out and deal with potentially resistant parties.

Once the people are out, you're generally free to enter, but now you also need to deal with all the property that was left behind, if any. You don't get to keep it, or sell it, or throw it out, or leave it on the front lawn. So you'll probably ask the sheriff for help again, either by supervising the squatters return to retrieve their property or by facilitating communication with them to figure out how they want to handle it.

  • 2
    Pro tip: Popping a skunk through a window is frowned on by the courts.
    – bdb484
    Apr 14 '18 at 5:50
  • thank you for the information, bdb84. Would you also know the answer to the following question: If the squatters are not inside the residence (and none of the squatters belonging is there) when the owner visits, should it be OK for the owner to just remove the locks they have installed and put new locks in?
    – x457812
    Apr 14 '18 at 12:01
  • Not off the top of my head, but I'd be wary of doing anything that disrupts their ability to get into what the law basically recognizes as their home.
    – bdb484
    Apr 14 '18 at 18:33
  • 1
    Yep @bdb484 is right. Generally, you are to avoid any "self help" actions.
    – A.fm.
    Apr 14 '18 at 19:39

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