The city also agreed to make sure that no home buyers get their water shut off because of overdue water payments caused by paperwork delays in Green's office.
About 3,000 properties are sold each year at sheriff's sales. In many cases, there are also overdue water payments.
Although state law requires the sheriff to pay those obligations and issue a deed within 40 days of sale, the Pennsylvania Land Title Association had accused the office of routinely violating those time limits by months or even years.
"The mere fact that they consented to relief is an acknowledgment that the existing system does not comply," said Edward J. Hayes, the lawyer for the association that represents title insurance firms and related businesses.
"We've seen them five or more years and they still haven't distributed the money," Hayes said.
Green and an lawyer for the city acknowledged that there had been some delays, but they disputed the extent.
"There is no doubt that we have computer problems, and we are going to address those concerns, and we also have personnel concerns, as well as staffing levels," Green said. "We are working on this."
Green said he had not yet determined how much staff he would have to add, or what upgrades were necessary to the department's computer accounting system.
Under state law, once a property is sold, the buyer has 21 days to settle and then the sheriff has 40 days to issue a new deed and distribute the money. Tens of millions of dollars a year cycle through the sheriff's department accounts, and the lawsuit contended that sometimes money was tied up for months or years.
The city controller has sharply criticized the sheriff's accounting system, and has said the office is unable to say how much money is owed in total to various governments and banks, and compare that with how much it has in its accounts.
The sheriff has promised to fix that system, too. Yesterday, his office did not respond to a request for an accounting of how much money was owed city agencies and private lenders.
In an interview last week, a lawyer who handles tax lien sales said payments on properties that her law firm handles are routinely six months late.
A year ago, the delays were 18 months or more, but that improved after the lawsuit was filed, said Sharon Humble, a Center City lawyer with Linebarger Goggan Blair Pena & Sampson.
Chief deputy city solicitor Michael Eichert took issue with Hayes' claim that "thousands" of transactions were involved.
But, he said, "Even a few of these instances are probably things that shouldn't happen."
Green said there had been an increase in the number of sheriff's sales each year since he was first elected in 1987, and that that had contributed to the problem.
"It's been gradual, so it has been kind of hard to point out out exactly when" corrective action became necessary, he said.
Ordinary people are affected as well as banks. When a property is sold, the sheriff's department is supposed to pay off outstanding water bills, so the new owner can get service and not face shutoff because of a previous owner's debt.
But Vincent R. Meyers Sr. encountered both problems when he bought a house in Northeast Philadelphia on the 6000 block of Shisler Street in April 2001.
It had been sold at a sheriff's sale six months earlier, but when Meyers asked for the water service to be restored, the department told him he had to pay nearly $300, a bill the previous owners had incurred.
Meyers said he had to produce paperwork showing that the sheriff's department had received payment for $289.72 in old water bills when the property was sold to a mortgage company in October 2000.
Meyers got his water turned on, but within months he was getting dunned for the same past-due bill..
"To avoid termination of service, please make payment immediately," his September 2001 bill says. Meyers went back to the water department, and spoke to a revenue administrator.
"She was very nice. She put an administrative hold on my account so she can't shut if off. She told me this is routine, she has got thousands of them."
No one from the city water department was available for comment yesterday on Meyers' case or the settlement, spokeswoman Laura Copeland said.
Under the settlement, the sheriff has agreed to file deeds for property sold after April 30 within 40 days of settlement, and distribute all money collected at settlement within the same period.
For all property sold within the last year, the sheriff will issue a deed and distribute money within six months. Anyone making a specific request for a single property can have a deed and cash within 40 days. For older sales, the sheriff has a "reasonable period of time" to produce deeds and distribute funds.
The city agreed to ensure that water service is not terminated or tax sales threatened because of delays in payment by the sheriff's office.
Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-5983, or firstname.lastname@example.org.