Responding to Illegal "Self-Help" Evictions | Residential Property Crimes

Responding to Illegal "Self-Help" Evictions | Residential Property Crimes

There are several types of Residential Property Crimes that take place in Philadelphia. In every case, vulnerable citizens are victimized. However, sometimes it can be difficult to determine who the parties are and what is taking place. This video will go over how to identify and respond to an illegal “self-help” eviction.

Common forms of illegal or “self-help” eviction include:

· Changing locks or blocking access to the dwelling in any way
· Removing doors or windows from a rental property
· Turning off utilities like gas, water or electric
· Removing personal property without consent

Doing any these things or even threatening to do these things without a court order is a violation of Philadelphia Code 9-1600 Prohibition Against Self-Help Eviction Practices. Sometimes landlords will commit or threaten to commit other crimes, such as assault or theft, in order to pressure tenants into leaving. The police department’s swift involvement and attention when a tenant reports an illegal eviction can help prevent escalation and further harm.

The first step in any response to a dispute involving residential property is to determine the identities of the people involved and if a Landlord-Tenant relationship can be established. Things that may aid in determining a Landlord-Tenant relationship include:

· A written lease
· Statements of those involved in the dispute
· Statements of witnesses, especially if not connected to either party
· Receipts
· Utility Bills

Each party should get a “Tenant Referral Notice.” This notice explains what an illegal or “self-help” eviction is, and what to expect going forward.

Next, the lawfulness of the eviction must be verified. If the eviction is legal, the landlord or their agent will have a copy of the Alias Writ of Possession from Municipal Court or a Writ of Possession from the Court of Common Pleas, which proves that they have a court order for the eviction.

If they don’t have either of these documents, the eviction is illegal. In this case, the tenant has an immediate right to reenter the dwelling, and any steps that were taken to block access or habitability should be remedied by the landlord as soon as possible. While officers are not responsible for physically restoring access or habitability to tenants, they should be available for stand-by assistance.

While the tenant is regaining access to their home, the officer will issue a non-traffic Summary Citation (03-8) to the landlord for a violation of Philadelphia Code 9-1605. This is an important step – although officers are unable to arrest landlords for illegal or “self-help” evictions alone, citations deter landlords from continuing to circumvent the law and ensure that landlords are accountable for their actions.

Officers must then prepare an incident report (75-48) listing all pertinent information, and inform the landlord that they must obtain an Alias Writ of Possession in order to evict tenants.

Every day that a tenant is unable to access or live in their rental property is an additional offense. If there are other crimes involved in an illegal eviction, such as assault or theft, officers should also address those behaviors in accordance with the law and relevant PPD directives.

Additional information about illegal or “self-help” evictions can be found in Philadelphia Code 9-1605, and further information about the role of the police officer can be found in Philadelphia Police Directive 3.17.

Tenants should never be evicted without having an opportunity to defend themselves in court. That’s why tenants need to know their rights and the police need to enforce those rights, so that all landlords in Philadelphia respect those rights



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