Adverse Possession Disputes
In many areas of Pennsylvania, people occupy properties where title to the property is in dispute. A common situation is where a property has been occupied for a long time without permission of the owner, but the owner failed to remove the occupant. Two examples are tenant-landlord relationships where the landlord died and inheritance properties where the heirs did not complete the legal process.
Pennsylvania has a law that permits a property to be re-titled in the name of another person with a long-standing relationship to the property. The law of “adverse possession”, codified under 42 Pa.C.S § 5530, permits a person to file a lawsuit called a Quiet Title action against the record owner. The person claiming adverse possession rights must have occupied the property for a minimum number of years without permission. If the Quiet Title lawsuit is successful, the court will issue an order awarding legal title.
Property owners who do not enforce their rights run a risk of losing legal title to an occupant. The solution for a property owner facing the loss of legal title is to “eject” the occupant. An ejectment action is a type of legal case to remove the occupant from land. A property owner who files an ejectment action may also include additional claims for rent or other damages due to the other party’s unlawful occupation.
A person claiming rights by adverse possession cannot simply file a deed transferring the property. The alleged new owner must sue the former owner under a Quiet Title action. Forging the signature of a previous owner on a deed to claim adverse possession rights is deed fraud.
The law is undergoing major revisions for residential properties starting June 2019. Under the new law, a property can be re-titled in the name of another person if the following basic requirements are proven at trial:
#1. The resident used the property for a minimum of 10 years.
#2. The property must be residential, located on a lot of not more than ½ acre and contain a single-family home. Commercial properties and residential properties that do not meet these requirements must be occupied for a minimum of 21 years.
#3. The occupancy must have been actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile. Each of these requirements must be proven individually as elements of the plaintiff’s claim.
As a real estate attorney to property owners, I help resolve legal disputes and avoid costly mistakes.
If you know a person involved in a title dispute over a property, please forward our contact information:
Phone (484) 690-4613
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