Philly squatters turn homeowners' lives upside down

- Don and Debbie McGee came to Philadelphia City Hall Monday with a horror story no one should face: a nearly six-month battle over possession of their own home.

"I was the owner of that property," Don explained to a city council hearing. "No one else was given permission to be in that property!"

The McGees say they were in the process of selling their row house on the 5300 block of Akron Street in the city's Frankford section back in the spring, when a buyer's inspector was greeted by 10 squatters – adults and kids – claiming ownership of the property. Thus began a lengthy and costly fight to remove the intruders, as McGee spelled out to city lawmakers with Debbie looking on in tears.

"(We) lost the sale of our house," said Don, "and don't know where the end is."

Victims of squatters – the McGees and others – told stories of police called to the scene only to throw up their hands when squatters presented even the most obviously fraudulent ownership papers, and of utility companies unwilling to wade into the dispute.

"One hundred fifty days in, now, and they're still there today," said McGee of the squatters in his home.

Sure enough, when FOX 29's Bruce Gordon visited the McGees' Akron Street address and knocked on the door, a woman peeked out the window but refused to answer.

"All I do is cry," Debbie McGee said. "I don't want to go out. I don't want to do nothing. It's just turned (my life) completely upside down."

Both city and state lawmakers are working on legislation to make it easier for police to remove squatters – to place on them the burden of proving they're legit.

For now, all city council could do was apologize for the appalling state of affairs.

"This has been a woeful failure to serve the public," admitted councilman David Oh, "and we have victims of crime who are homeowners."

The McGees arrived at that council hearing from a court hearing just a few doors away in City Hall.

At that hearing, an agreement was reached that could see the squatters in the Akron Street home leave by December 3.

The McGees can only hope.

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