Protecting Property Rights: Strengthening PA’s Laws Against Squatting

By Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-40)

With the rise of reports of squatter’s rights, my office has received an increase in inquires related to Pennsylvania’s laws on this topic. Constituents have expressed particular concern regarding a viral TikTok video advising illegal immigrants that “if a house is not inhabited, we can seize it.”

So, what is Pennsylvania’s law?

Squatting is defined as someone who occupies a property without the owner’s consent. The term “squatter’s rights” refers to the legal concept that allows a person to potentially gain legal ownership or rights to use the property. These rights are known as adverse possession, and they vary greatly by jurisdictions. The most common metric in law to determine if an illegitimate tenant has attained adverse possession is the time of occupation on the property. This criterion varies by state, ranging from as low as five years to as high as 30 years.

In Pennsylvania, squatters can potentially claim legal ownership of a property after 21 years of uninterrupted possession. However, they must also satisfy other criteria stipulated in Pennsylvania law, particularly under Title 42 § 5527.1. This statute outlines that squatters must demonstrate possession that is continuous, exclusive and visible, among other traits. This means a squatter must use the property as an owner would, without hiding their use and conducting general maintenance.

Meeting this legal threshold in Pennsylvania distinguishes squatters from mere trespassers. Property owners in Pennsylvania seeking to remove squatters would need to involve the sheriff, serve a notice to vacate and initiate the eviction process.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, have introduced legislation to strengthen their laws to better protect private property owners. In Harrisburg, these proposals include the increase of continuous occupation from 21 years to mirror states with the highest threshold of 30 years. While Pennsylvania has several elements a squatter must meet to legally claim adverse possession, some states require the squatter must pay the property taxes and obtain a color of title – documentation of acts in a good faith effort to possess real estate property.

I share the concerns of the constituents who are contacting my office and support the calls to strengthen Pennsylvania law to better protect private property owners. We need to work to close all loopholes that allow someone to be in a private residence without legal ownership or rental contract.

We can do better, and I look forward to supporting Pennsylvania property owners.

CONTACT: Mackenzie Mueller

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