Don’t Let Time Be Your Enemy

By: Pile Law Firm, PLLC

How Does Adverse Possession Work in Pennsylvania?

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What is Adverse Possession?

Broadly defined, adverse possession can allow a trespasser to have legal title to your property if they can prove that they held continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct, and hostile possession of the property for a specific number of years.

Adverse possession would seem to be an unlawful act; however, there are specific motivations behind it. For example, it would help to ensure that land doesn’t remain dormant. Also, it incentivizes property owners to use their ownership rights in a timely way. If the owner doesn’t use the property, adverse possession can allocate it to those who will put it to use. Vacant land, buildings, and even rooms within a building can also be obtained using adverse possession.

Superficially, adverse possession may seem to be a risk for any organization or individual who owns property; however, there are ways to avoid it, such as:

  • Ensuring that you understand the location of your property’s boundaries – Deeds, etc., typically have descriptions. Still, having a professional surveyor stake out your boundaries and visibly mark them on your property is always a wise idea.
  • If the property in question is a trail or conservation easement, thoroughly investigating and understanding precisely what is inconsistent with the easement’s purposes or infringes upon it.
  • Most importantly, monitoring the property and fully asserting your rights to avoid encroachment. By “keeping an eye” on your property, you will prevent potential or actual encroachment and have enough time to avoid an adverse possession dispute.

You also must note that in most cases, property owned by the federal (or state) government is not subject to the rules of adverse possession. However, most owners are subject to Pennsylvania’s adverse possession statutes, and they can enforce them.

Admittedly, this can be an enormously complex area of Pennsylvania real estate law. If you believe it is happening to you, the help of a professional and knowledgeable Blue Bell real estate law attorney is mandatory.

How Can Someone Take Possession Using the Adverse Possession Statutes?

Currently, in most cases in Pennsylvania, the tenant or trespasser must be in “actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession” of the property for at least ten years to claim adverse possession of a property.

There are other contingencies, and actual “possession” may vary according to the specific circumstances.

However, the trespasser (or tenant) must treat the land as if it were their own in a manner that is “consistent with the nature of the property.” For example, if they make improvements, maintain a fenced-in lawn or designated area, and do proper upkeep so that any reasonable person would surmise that the land is their own.

There are other elements that need to be met in order to make a successful adverse possession claim. In any adverse possession claim, you must obtain a thorough case evaluation from a professional real estate law attorney.

Adverse possession is still a highly controversial doctrine in Pennsylvania. It is not usually easy to justify rewarding a claimant with title to someone else’s land, but if all the conditions for adverse possession are met, it can be done.

What Are the Three Main Things Adverse Possession Was Designed to Do?

Again, on a superficial level, adverse possession seems to be highly unfair to the owners of the real estate, but it has three main points that it was designed to accomplish, they are;

  • It can be used to bar lawsuits on land the owner has yet to productively use. This, in effect, protects the tenant or occupant of the land from frivolous claims and helps to promote its productive use.
  • Secondly, adverse possession was formulated to help correct defects in the title. For example, a homeowner could get the deed to the property that his house was built on through adverse possession after discovering an error in surveying. The land owner built his home on land neighbors owned to the east of his location. Adverse possession was used to correct the situation, and the title defect was corrected.
  • Thirdly, adverse possession was designed to promote overall land development. The government and businesses always want to encourage economic development in our capitalist system. Adverse possession is a legal means by which title is transferred from an idle owner (who is not utilizing the property) to a dynamic tenant or “squatter.”

So, it’s a useful legal approach that can solve seemingly complex real estate issues and is not always utilized in a seemingly negative manner. It must be stressed, though, that the uses of adverse possession are varied and complex, and the professional, detailed, and educated advice of a Blue Bell real estate law attorney is invaluable to a successful outcome.

How Can a Claim of Adverse Possession Be Made in Pennsylvania?

To raise an adverse possession claim you (or your organization) must reside or “squat” on a parcel of land for a specific period. In Pennsylvania, depending on the details of your case, it can typically be 10 years.

The following requirements must be met:

  • You reside on the land for a statutory period.
  • You use the land as any owner would typically use it.
  • Your use is open and notorious, and you are not concealing your use of the land so that the actual owner can see that you are using the property.
  • Your use is continuous.
  • You do not have permission, in any way, from the owner to use the land.
  • Also, the property cannot be abandoned once they begin to possess it adversely.

Each of these elements must be satisfied throughout the required timeframe.

If you have a claim you wish to file or one that has been filed against you, you must have a complete case evaluation done by a real estate law attorney well-versed in Pennsylvania’s adverse possession laws.

I Need To Know More About Adverse Possession: How Should I Proceed?

If you own a small home or a large plot of land, you must be aware of adverse possession as a Pennsylvania property owner. Adverse possession can sometimes be helpful to you, or you could have neighbors whose land borders yours cross the property line and use portions of your land.

However, the laws surrounding adverse possession are always challenging to navigate. If you want to be successful at defending your property or claiming your land, you must have the help of a Blue Bell real estate law attorney. This is a complex matter, and all the legal boxes must be checked. Consulting with your lawyer immediately is the best way to achieve your desired outcome.