Council bill would start tackling home-theft 'epidemic'
Councilman Bill Greenlee plans to introduce a bill today that would add steps to recording deeds.
STEALING A house in Philadelphia is still relatively simple, and if you ask City Councilman Bill Greenlee, not enough has changed to fix the problem since the Daily News first reported on the issue more than a decade ago.
That's why Greenlee plans to introduce a bill today that would require the Records Department to verify that a seller of a house matches the name of the owner on city records when deeds are recorded.
Questionable deeds would still be recorded, but stamped "not certified." The department would then have to alert authorities to the suspected fraud. The stamp would also raise a red flag the next time the house is sold.
Greenlee said the bill has been in the works for a while, but a People Paper story on the issue yesterday convinced him to move forward with it now.
"You're never going to stop anything 100 percent," said Greenlee, who tried to get a similar measure passed years ago. "But we've probably not done enough to get them to change that much, and after all these years, that's more than unfortunate."
Greenlee's bill also calls on the Nutter administration to create a Tangled Title Assistance Program that would serve as a "one-stop shop" for deed-theft victims. Victims would get help obtaining an attorney and other resources to aid them in navigating the court process and regaining ownership of their properties.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration had not seen the bill, but is "certainly aware of the long-term problem."
Greenlee's bill would also require the Records Department to notify the whole block whenever a house there is transferred at minimal cost and add a provision requiring anyone who buys a house without title insurance to sign a statement acknowledging the risks of doing so.
Last month, state Rep. Kevin Boyle introduced a bill that would stiffen the penalty for filing or notarizing phony deeds or forged documents from a misdemeanor to a felony.
"A slap on the wrist for stealing someone's house is objectionable," said Boyle, of Northeast Philly. "We're the biggest epicenter of the home-theft epidemic."