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Philadelphia homeowners unable to evict alleged house thief

A West Philadelphia man regrets the day he met a prospective tenant who wanted to rent-to-own his daughter's house in the 4900 block of Chestnut Street. The real estate dispute began when the proposed tenant borrowed the keys to the property and never gave them back.

The homeowners, a married couple who moved out of state, had hoped to sell the Philadelphia property with the help of the wife's father. A lease-to-own agreement was still unwritten when the unwanted tenant reportedly took the keys, moved in and changed the locks. A legal action to quiet title was impossible because the tenant never attempted to transfer the house deed into his own name.

The homeowners say they have been stuck in a year-long battle with a long-distance underwater mortgage for a house occupied by a man they legally cannot evict.

The couple tried to get rid of the alleged squatter by sending an eviction notice and having the gas turned off at the property. Neither plan worked. Since the owners are not officially landlords and the occupant is not a contracted tenant, legal efforts to displace the man have been frustrating.

The homeowners approached the Philadelphia District Attorney's office for help, only to receive a letter that said the case was without "prosecutorial merit." The DA suggested moving the case to civil court. The father discovered that the squatting tenant had a history of past and pending lawsuits, including charges of fraud and deed theft.

The homeowners have come to their legal wits end and have been advised to walk away from the property rather than try to combat the tenant, who pays no rent while living in a home he does not own. The family could benefit from experienced legal counsel, who knows all facets of real estate law.

Source: Philadelphia City Paper, "Home Wrecker," Isaiah Thompson, Dec. 1, 2011

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