“Adverse possession” is a phrase used to describe one method of acquiring ownership rights over a piece of property. Sometimes called “squatter’s rights,” adverse possession occurs when someone takes over another person’s property and continues to possess, use and maintain it for a certain period of time without interruption.
Every state has different rules about how adverse possession works. In Pennsylvania, it used to take 21 years of “actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession” before someone could legally claim a property as their own and quiet the title. The Clear Title Act, which was signed into law in 2019, has now shortened that waiting period to just 10 years for certain people.
The Clear Title Act (HB 352) is designed to help long-term occupants of residential homes that have no legal owners. That’s a situation that’s not nearly as rare or unusual as many people think. It often happens when a landlord abandons a property without notice and disappears or the owner of a property dies without making any arrangements for the property to pass to another. The tenants of the home are left in a sort of legal no-man’s land — and many just continue to care for the property as their own.
If you’ve checked into adverse possession laws in the past and found out that you had a 21-year wait, it may be time to look into the situation again. While the law doesn’t apply to every situation, it may apply to yours. An experienced real estate lawyer can help you understand what steps to take next.