Over the last few weeks, a man who was able to move into a $300,000 home for about $16 has grabbed quite a few headlines. The Texas man used a quirk in real estate law called "adverse possession" to move into the abandoned home after filing an affidavit with a court and moving into the home. If he is able to stay in the home long enough, he will get full legal title to it. This leaves many of our readers wondering if this could happen in Pennsylvania. The answer is yes and no.
Adverse possession exists in every state, including Pennsylvania. In fact, adverse possession dates back to English law and is a way for people to acquire abandoned property. However, every state's adverse possession law is different, and Pennsylvania's law differs from the Texas law in a few key ways.
In Pennsylvania, a person who wants to gain full title to property by adverse possession needs to prove that he or she possessed the property for 21 years. In addition, the person's possession must be actual, continuous, visible, notorious, distinct, and hostile.
Most commonly, adverse possession does not involve a home or an entire piece of property. It usually involves a small piece of land on the border of two properties. For example, if one property owner cuts the grass or otherwise maintains a piece of a neighbor's property for long enough, title can pass to the person taking care of the land.
Over the course of the foreclosure crisis, cases involving adverse possession have spiked. However, some states, including Pennsylvania, are considering legislation that would change how adverse possession works.
Sources: Fox News, "Texas Man's $16 Property Seizure Throws Obscure Law Into Spotlight," Stephen Clark, July 22, 2011
7 Summ. Pa. Jur. 2d Property § 13:7