Major Changes to Abandoned Property Law in Pennsylvania

In many areas of Pennsylvania, people live in homes where title to the property is not clear. Unclear title is especially prevalent in cities with older homes. Two examples are tenant-landlord relationships where the landlord disappeared or died and inheritance properties where the legal process was never completed.

Residents of a so-called “tangled title” property may face serious difficulties maintaining the property. Residents without clear title cannot obtain home improvement loans even when serious structural defects arise. If the property taxes fall behind, the local government will not offer owner-occupied payment plans to a person who does not have title. These properties often stagnant and become a blight on the surrounding neighborhood.

Pennsylvania has an existing abandoned property law known as “adverse possession” designed to settle title in unclear situations. The law is undergoing major revisions for residential properties starting June 2019. These changes will affect the rights of both property owners and residents of the properties.

Here are the upcoming requirements to bring a claim to re-title a property.

  • The resident have used the property for a minimum of 10 years
  • The property must be residential, located on a lot of not more than ½ acre and contain a single-family home
  • The occupancy by the resident must have been actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile. Each of these requirements must be proven individually – the resident must have actually used it without permission, continuously for the entire period of possession in an open and obvious manner.

Commercial properties and residential properties that do not meet the lot type qualifications may still be re-titled if occupied for 21 years.

Residents who believe they meet the requirements are strongly cautioned not to record a fraudulent deed. Signing and recording a deed on behalf of a person who is dead is serious deed fraud and may harm an otherwise strong legal case. The only way to obtain legal title is through a lawsuit called a Quiet Title action.

As a real estate attorney to property owners, I help resolve legal disputes and avoid costly mistakes. If you know a person with an uncertain legal claim to a property, please forward our contact information:

Phone (484) 690-4613


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