Adverse Possession

It was 45 years ago, when I first learned of a law in Pennsylvania, known as “adverse possession.”

There was property we owned back then, where neighbors had ‘cut a corner’ so to speak, by running their driveway over the corner of our building lot. It got to the point where we had to consult an attorney about the situation, since we were in the process of selling that land. What he told us, in a nutshell, is that if their driveway had clearly been on our property for a period of 21 years or more, they gained ownership of it, through something called “adverse possession.” That didn’t seem fair then, and it still doesn’t seem fair to me now!

Please keep in mind that I’m not an attorney and this should not be considered legal advice. So let’s go to an outside source to see what we might find. Here are some excerpts from an article titled, “Use It or Lose It: Adverse Possession in Pennsylvania” in Juris Magazine, with 20 referenced sources of information:

“Adverse possession is when someone occupies land that another person has title to with the intent to make it their own. In Pennsylvania, the person asserting adverse possession must show the possession is actual, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct, and hostile for 21 years. There is a lot of overlap between the elements. An adverse possessor, for example, can show that their possession is actual, visible, and notorious by mowing the grass and parking their car on another’s property.”

Wow! So maybe my understanding of that law is completely correct. Reading further in that article we also see this:

“In Pennsylvania, the courts broke the elements of adverse possession into three categories. An adverse possessor must show “actual, visible, notorious, exclusive possession; . . . continuous for 21 years; and [that] possession was hostile and adverse to the true owner’s title.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the “hostile and adverse to the true owner’s title” element is implied when all the other elements are met.”

It’s really worth reading the entire article here, especially if you have a small lot, since it goes on to say this:

“There is currently pending legislation to reduce the required time for adverse possession from 21 years to 10 years for property less than a half-acre that abuts real property.”

Keep in mind, that article was written five years ago, but my basic theme for this blog remains the same, and that is for you to be fully aware of your property lines. This one sentence toward the end of that article really stood out, saying:

“Adverse possession is a legal tool that “reallocates title from the idle owner to the industrious squatter.” “

I would never want to acquire land in that fashion, but there are others who might, and for various reasons. Bottom line: Make sure you know where your property lines are located and the history of your lot. A neighbor might have landscaped a portion of your lot and maintained it openly for 21 years. But in most cases, that adverse possession is much more likely to involve a fence or driveway.