You purchase a dilapidated house, plan to renovate it and start gutting the inside. Maybe you are waiting for construction plans to finalize and don’t go back for awhile. When you return to keep working on the project, someone else is living in the house, and claims to own it.

When you investigate their claim, you both realize a forged deed was used to transfer the house to the new buyer. The person who sold the house illegally is long gone and proving it was a forgery through the quiet title process isn’t that easy.

How do criminals get away with stealing a house?

Criminals with the intent to steal a house will scout for an abandoned or empty house. They will find an innocent buyer and claim to be the seller. The criminals will forge documents and notary stamps on deed documents and make them look convincingly real. When the deed is changed and accepted, it becomes difficult to investigate and reverse.

Homeowners who have been victims of the scam, report that it can take over a year to prove ownership and have the house returned. The buyers are victims too, having purchased a house that wasn’t really for sale. In some cases, the homeowner has to settle in court and never gets the house returned.

Property theft like this is common in Philadelphia because of the large number of vacant and abandoned properties. Many real estate transactions also go through without title insurance. New laws are now in place to notify the last deed holder of a property before sale, however, the scams have continued.

Insight for owners and sellers

Experts advise that you get title insurance when buying a home in Philadelphia – just in case what you are purchasing turns out to be involved in a scam.

Real estate scams such as these aren’t the most common form of quiet title. Most often property is disputed when passed down in a will. Quiet title occurs when two parties are disputing ownership of land or property and seek legal action to determine true ownership.

Nevertheless, navigating real estate disputes is a complex legal matter and consulting an attorney who focuses in the area of real estate law could be beneficial.