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Help for Philadelphia Homeowners Caught in ‘Tangled Titles’

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A new Philadelphia law aims to prevent “tangled titles,” which occur when a homeowner dies and heirs mistakenly assume they own the home. In reality, if their name isn’t on the deed, heirs may be out of luck.

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The law, introduced by Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson (D), requires funeral homes to educate families about legal steps they should take to safeguard properties.

More than 10,400 houses in the city, worth over $1.1 billion, are caught up in tangled titles, according to a 2021 Pew Charitable Trusts study. Most are in low-income neighborhoods. A resident with a tangled title may be blocked from selling the home, buying homeowner’s insurance or making improvements. They could lose the property through forgeries that lead to “deed theft”—unlawfully transferring it to another owner.

The city’s Department of Records and the Register of Wills will create an information sheet outlining how to transfer property and avoid a tangled title. 

AARP Pennsylvania backed the bill, citing risks for people whose tangled titles could plunge them into homelessness. Free legal help is available from Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center and Philadelphia Legal Assistance. 

—Cristina Rouvalis

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