Written by attorney James S. Tupitza

Adverse Possession in PA


  1. ELEMENTS A claimant must prove actual, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession of the land continuously for 21 years. Conneaut Lake Park, Inc. v. Klingensmith, 362 Pa. 592, 66 A.2d 828 (1949). The burden is on the claimant to establish each of the elements by credible, clear and definitive proof. Stevenson v. Stein, 412 Pa. 478, 195 A.2d 268 (1963). There is a great deal of overlap between the elements, as demonstrated by the recent case Lilly v. Markvan,2000 WL 1863116 (Pa. Dec. 10, 2000).

  2. STATUTORY BASIS The statutory basis for adverse possession is 42 Pa. C.S. § 5530, which provides that an owner is barred from commencing an action for the possession of real property after 21 years.

  3. EFFECT When the elements of adverse possession have been satisfied, the record owner is divested of title and absolute fee ownership vests in the claimant. Philadelphia Electric Co. v. City of Philadelphia, 303 Pa. 422, 154 A. 492 (1931). Title obtained by adverse possession is marketable. Plauchak v. Boling, 439 Pa. Super. 156, 653 A.2d 671 (1995). However, the author is not aware of a title insurance underwriter that will insure such title, absent a final, unappealed and unappealable court order.

  4. DIVESTITURE "Title [acquired by adverse possession] may be divested only in the manner in which title acquired by formal grant or conveyance may be divested and is not lost by 'neglecting to keep up the possession.'" Plauchak v. Boling, 439 Pa. Super. 156, 653 A.2d 671 (1995), citing Schall v. Williams Valley Railroad Co., 35 Pa. 191 (1860).

  5. RECORDING Any person who acquires title by adverse possession and who, thereafter, ceases to remain in possession of the property, must file a statement of claim within 6 months of leaving possession. 68 P.S. § 81. Failure to record such a statement renders such title invalid against any purchaser, mortgagee or judgment creditor for value and without notice. 68 P.S. § 85. See also, Nulton v. Nulton, 247 Pa. 572, 583, 93 A. 630, 633 (1915); Moore v. Duran, 455 Pa. Super. 124, 687 A.2d 822 (1996).

6 RECENT CASES In Weible v. Wells, 2017 PA Super 49, 156 A.3d 1220 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017) the Court addressed a claim of adverse possession where the municipality owned the property for a period of three years during the adverse possession. The Court held that while adverse possession does not run against the government, the 21 year period is only interrupted and not re-set. "Rather, during the time that the political subdivision owns the property the 21–year statutory period for adverse possession is tolled or stops running."

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