Unless you live on a homestead with many acres of unimproved land, you are probably intimately familiar with every square foot of your property. You are at your primary residence consistently, which means you know if someone started living in the garage or putting up a fence.
The possibility of someone trying to lay claim to your property through adverse possession proceedings while you live there is relatively low. However, investment properties, vacation homes and hunting properties could all be at elevated risk of adverse possession claims.
Adverse possession is the technical term for the right to claim the legal ownership of a parcel or a portion of a property based on the long-term use and development of that property. Understanding adverse possession laws in Pennsylvania can help you avoid claims against any property that you owe.
Who can bring an adverse possession claim?
Technically, someone living on your property without your permission is a squatter, but they can eventually try to claim a right of ownership if they stay there long enough. The only people who could claim an interest in your property without receiving it from you directly or purchasing it would be those who have assumed open use of the property for an extended period of time.
The state law used to require more than 20 years of possession, but that recently changed. Now, a squatter or neighbor hoping to take over your property only has to live there for 10 years to potentially bring a claim in civil court. Those living in a vacant home for years, who erect improvements on vacant land or who start using a parcel next to their own could eventually ask the courts for ownership of that property.
How do you avoid adverse possession claims?
The simplest way to protect your property from adverse possession claims is to secure the property with fencing and ensure no one visits or encroaches on your boundaries. However, especially if there are many acres or the land is particularly rough, fencing could be a cost-prohibitive solution.
Frequent inspections of the full property every few months could also be a viable solution. That way, you can take steps to remove any items or improvements people try to add and legally evict anyone staying there without your permission. Learning more about the real estate laws in Pennsylvania will help you protect your property from the encroachment of others.