SQUATTER’S RIGHTS – What Property Owners Need to Know

Owning property can be rewarding, but it can come with a long list of responsibilities and concerns. One of those concerns is squatting, and it can be more of an issue than you may think. Squatters make themselves at home on your property, without permission and without your knowledge. It can be a nightmare for property owners to resolve on their own.

For many years, Pennsylvania law has recognized the doctrine of adverse possession, sometimes referred to as squatter’s rights. Under this doctrine, one may obtain ownership of another’s property through possession for a period of time. However, “[o]ne who claims title by adverse possession must prove actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession of the land for twenty-one years.” Weible v. Wells, 156 A.3d 1220, 1224 (Pa. Super. 2017).

On June 19, 2018, the legislature enacted a statute which reduced the time period necessary for establishing adverse possession to ten (10) years in certain situations. The statute, 42 Pa. C.S. § 5527.1, became effective on June 19, 2019. The statute applies to real estate with an area of one-half acre or less which is “[i]mproved by a single-family dwelling that is and has been occupied by a possessor seeking title” for 10 years. 42 Pa. C.S. § 5527.1(h). The property must also be identified as a separate lot in a recorded deed, subdivision plan or official municipal map or plan. 42 Pa. C.S. § 5527.1(h). It appears that the intent was to address situations such as the death or disappearance of a landlord and failure to administer the estate which may leave uncertainty as to title.

The individual claiming adverse possession may also include an abutting lot which has been used as part of the property for which the individual claims adverse possession as long as the total area does not exceed one-half acre. The statute does not apply to property that is part of a common interest ownership community such as planned communities, condominiums and cooperatives established under the Uniform Planned Community Act, the Uniform Condominium Act and the Real Estate Cooperative Act. The statute also excludes property owned by government entities.

In order to obtain title to the property, an individual must file a quiet title action and provide notice to the record owners and his/her heirs as detailed in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1065.1. 42 Pa. C.S. § 5527.1(c). The notice requires that the owner file an action in ejectment to remove the possessor within one year if the owner wishes to challenge the claim of adverse possession. Pa. R.C.P. 1065.1; 42 Pa. C.S. § 5527.1(c) and (d). If no action of ejectment is filed and served within one year, the possessor may obtain a judgment granting title subject to liens and other restrictions on the property.

If you have questions regarding adverse possession or other property rights, please do not hesitate to contact the business attorneys at Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn. We can help.