It’s hard to imagine. You go on an extended vacation or encounter some other reason to be out of your home for a long period of time. When you return to your home, you’re shocked to find someone else living in it.

Unfortunately, the episode just described happens frequently in Philadelphia and many other cities across America. It’s a crime known as “Illegal Trespass” or – more colloquially – squatting.

I have assisted several families in their fights to evict those living illegally in their homes and have realized some successes. You would think it’d be fairly easy to evict people out of your home, but it’s often complicated and sometimes involves the police.

The state governs Illegal Trespass law. Under Pennsylvania statute 3503, trespassing within buildings or occupied structures is a third degree felony. This offense occurs when a person knows they are not permitted to enter a building or occupied structure, and does so by entering or gaining entry by deceit or secrecy. It is a second degree felony if the defendant breaks into any part of the building by way of force, intimidation, breaking, unauthorized opening of a loci, or through an opening not designed for human access (such as a vent, window, or dog door).

I have corresponded with colleagues in the State Legislature about this issue and about granting city government a greater degree of control over Illegal Trespass cases within the city limits. This is an issue that I will continue to monitor and engage in on behalf of the victims. Anyone who is experiencing a problem with squatters should feel free to contact my office. I’d be honored to offer my insight and advice.