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Pennsylvania Adverse Possession Laws

Someone who publicly takes possession of an otherwise neglected parcel of real estate, and improves it, may acquire title under the legal doctrine of "adverse possession." This is a strange loophole in the law, but a firmly established loophole. Title usually will not be conferred until a certain amount of time has passed. Pennsylvania adverse possession laws require a 21-year period of occupation.

The basic provisions of Pennsylvania's adverse possession laws are listed below. See Adverse Possession: Continuous Trespassers' Rights for more details.

Code Section Tit. 42§5530
Time Period Required for Occupation 21 yrs.-
Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability -
Improvements -
Payment of Taxes -
Title from Tax Assessor  

Basic Requirements for Adverse Possession

Adverse possession describes the situation when a trespasser can take title to a neglected piece of property. This is not an easy process, as there are many requirements to fulfill. Adverse possession is most common when property lines are misdrawn, or neighbors are otherwise mistaken. The six basic requirements are actual possession, use for a continuous period, use that is hostile to the actual owner's rights, open and notorious use, exclusive possession, and occasionally "color of title."

Actual Possession

The actual possession requirement is fulfilled when a trespasser is actually on the property and using the property. If someone notices that a piece of property is being unused, but they are not actually on the property or using the property themselves, they cannot make an adverse possession claim.

Continuous Period

The period for adverse possession in Pennsylvania is twenty one years. This means that the possessor must use the entire claimed land for the entire twenty one year period. Sometimes, an adverse possession claimant may be able to "tack on" a previous trespasser's use of the land if there is some connection between them. For example if Jane "sells" John a piece of property she trespassed on for fifteen years, and John continues to trespass for another seven years, the twenty one year requirement may be fulfilled.


The trespasser's use of the land must be "hostile" to the actual owner's rights to the land. This means that the rights of the landowner and the trespasser's use must be in conflict. The actual owner allowing someone to be on the land is an example of a use that is not in conflict with the owner's rights to the land.

Open and Notorious

The open and notorious adverse possession requirement means that the trespasser's use of the land must be public. This requirement gives the owner the possibility of seeing the trespassing use, and tell the trespasser to get off of the land.

Exclusive Possession

The exclusive possession requirement means that the adverse possessor must exclude other's from the property. If the actual owner uses the land occasionally, or if a group of trespassers regularly uses the land, this requirement may not be fulfilled.

Color of Title

In some cases, an adverse possessor must have an invalid title, or other document purporting to grant them the land, in order to make an adverse possession claim.

Contact an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

Although adverse possession is an obscure area of law, it can still affect your property rights. A real estate attorney can help determine whether land has been adversely possessed and can help you establish ownership. Contact an experienced Pennsylvania attorney today to learn more about your rights.

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