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VIP in Action Published August 11, 2021

Over 10,000 Tangled Titles in Philadelphia

Last week, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a new report on Philadelphia’s tangled title problem. Pew concluded that at least 10,407 homes in Philadelphia – 2% of residential properties – are burdened by tangled title, which means the deeds to those homes bear the name of someone other than the apparent owner. Although far from universal, tangled title most commonly occurs when a property’s owner dies and a relative inherits the property but fails to record a new deed.

The tangled title epidemic jeopardizes over $1.1 billion of our neighbors’ family wealth. VIP volunteer attorneys play a key role in addressing this problem.

How does this impact our neighbors?

A home with a tangled title can pose physical danger to its occupants. Without title, Philadelphia homeowners cannot access grant and loan programs to make critical home repairs, and properties fall into disrepair. Ultimately, homes with tangled titles can become uninhabitable and contribute to blight.

Tangled title also keeps poor families poor. The home is normally the most valuable asset a person owns. In Philadelphia, a city known for its high rates of homeownership, real estate is one of the main vehicles for preserving intergenerational wealth. Homes with title issues are at risk for mortgage foreclosure, real estate tax delinquency, property theft, and more. Unclear ownership can destroy a low-income family’s sole source of wealth.

Tangled title disproportionately burdens Black communities. Pew’s report found that the populations of the hardest-hit neighborhoods are predominantly Black, while those least affected are majority White.

Volunteer attorneys can make a difference

Tangled title is a serious problem, but not one without remedy. The probate process (or, less commonly, real estate litigation) offers affected homeowners a path to title, and proper estate planning can be a kind of “preventative medicine” for the next generation. But Pew found that resolving tangled title carries a steep price tag: the average cost, including probate filing fees, inheritance taxes, attorneys’ fees, and more, is $9,200, far more than our low-income neighbors can afford.

Philadelphia VIP exists to solve this problem. Our clients struggling with title issues depend on volunteer attorneys like you to resolve homeownership issues. VIP clients, armed with a volunteer attorney’s expertise and grants from the Tangled Title Fund, have a real shot at obtaining title to their family homes.

We desperately need volunteers to say “yes!” to probate, quiet title, and deed transfer cases to tackle this problem. Please email Joe B. Durkin, VIP’s Program Manager, to learn more, or explore the links below to be a part of the solution today.