An old legal maxim holds that “Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights.” Although somewhat ominous sounding, this phrase provides the important admonition to all that it’s important to keep watch over all of your land and understand the boundaries of your property. In what might come as a surprise to some, those that fail to take action against a trespasser occupying their land illegally may forfeit their claim to such property to their trespasser. Shocking, right?
The so-called “law of adverse possession” provides that a trespasser occupying a certain piece of property for an extended period of time may be permitted to file a legal action to obtain a deed and become the rightful owner of land which has been neglected by its previous owner. A real estate attorney from Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys can help Pennsylvania landowners who have found themselves in such a dispute regarding the rightful owner of real property.
In order to establish a rightful claim of adverse possession under Pennsylvania law, the possessor of the land must satisfy five conditions prior to obtaining lawful title of such property by adverse possession to the exclusion of all others:
- Continuous Possession
Although the timeframe varies from state to state, Pennsylvania adverse possession law requires an occupant to make a claim to a piece of land for a continuous 21 year period of time.
- Actual Possession
Actual possession means that the trespassing party must actually be present on the property and using it. A trespasser cannot make a successful adverse possession claim if he or she was never actually on the property and using it for himself or herself.
The hostile requirement doesn’t actually mean that a person has to be antagonistic or harm the owner of the property. It just means that the trespasser’s possession must be inconsistent with the landowner’s rights. If an alleged “trespasser” actually has the right to enter onto the property as a tenant or easement or license holder, then the hostility requirement cannot be met.
- Exclusive Possession
The trespassing party must keep other people away from the property to qualify for exclusive possession. A group of people could not use or share a piece of land regularly. The trespasser must hold it alone without interruption for the entire 21 years required for the continuous possession requirement.
- Open and Notorious
The trespasser in question must be open and notorious, giving the owner of the land the chance to see the party on their land and tell them to leave. Surreptitious attempts to possession the property without a fair opportunity for the landowner to know of the trespasser’s possession are insufficient.
A similar legal theory, called “color of title”, can provide an alternative basis for claiming legal ownership of property that was not conveyed to the trespasser. When an innocent trespasser makes his or her claim to a particular piece of property due to an invalid deed or other legal document, the seemingly innocent trespasser may be able to claim “color of title.”
If you wish to learn more about how the law of adverse possession or color of title impacts your claims to ownership of real property, please schedule a consultation with the experienced team of real estate and personal injury attorneys serving Reading, PA at Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys. All current and prospective clients can call 610-370-6700 or fill out a contact form on their website for more information.