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Squatters’ rights in PA

It is not uncommon for squatters in Pennsylvania to have rights, and the U.S. does not restrict them. There are specific guidelines that squatters must meet to own their property legally in Pennsylvania. What’s scary is that depending on where you live these squatters actually have more rights than the owners of the properties. Crazy right?

What exactly are squatters?

Squatters are those who occupy abandoned, foreclosed or unoccupied properties without the authorization of the owner. These individuals do not rent or own their properties. Squatting is not uncommon in the United States. Because of this, it is vital to be prepared, knowledgeable, and aware of this information before you have a lengthy and costly situation involving your rental property in Pennsylvania. We have found that often times it’s the people you “trust” the most that end up squatting in a property.

Over the years we have seen friends and family members become squatters inside of properties that other family members are trying to sell. Usually, it’s tenants that fall behind on rent that are the biggest issue, especially over the last 2 years since the Covid pandemic started.

In Pennsylvania, what are the rights of a squatter?

For a squatter to claim ownership of the property, they must meet specific requirements. Here are those requirements in Pennsylvania:

Work on a continuous basis 

If a squatter wishes to file an adverse possession claim, he or she must stay for a certain period of time continuously. Pennsylvania requires squatters to have occupied an area for at least 21 years before filing for compensation.

During this period, there must also be no interruptions. This means that the property was not abandoned by the squatter during those 21 years. Leaving for a week can nullify their claim of adverse possession.

Possession in the Actual state

Adverse possession laws also include a requirement known as ‘Actual Possession.’ This means that the squatter must physically occupy the property. As well as treating the property as if they owned it, they must also treat themselves as the actual owner. As a squatter, you may demonstrate actual possession of the property by performing regular maintenance, improving property conditions, and making other beautification efforts.

Known for being open and notorious 

It is important for squatters to disclose their occupation to anyone who comes in contact with them, including their neighbors. It is impossible for a squatter to establish adverse possession of a property when they hide their occupation.

Holding the exclusive possession of the property 

It is also required that the squatter prove ‘exclusive possession of the property through adverse means. If they have exclusive possession, they are the only ones allowed to occupy the property. And they should make sure that they are the only ones claiming the property.

Hostile Claim

The term ‘hostile’ has a different meaning in property law from that of ordinary law. Three different meanings of squatters’ rights are involved:

Simple Occupation 

In this definition, ‘hostile’ means merely possessing a property. There is no guarantee that the squatter who occupies the property knows who owns it. 

Trespassing Awareness 

 It is implied that squatters realize that their actions are trespassing by such a definition. As another way of putting it, they should know they do not have legal rights over the property. 

Good Faith Mistake

A few states only use the term. Taking possession of the property in good faith is assumed here to be a mistake made by the trespasser. They may not be aware that the deed they have in their possession is invalid or errors.

The best way to stop squatters from attacking your property

Fortunately, absentee landlords can prevent squatters from moving into their properties through measures they can put in place. They are as follows:

  • Maintain regular inspections of the property. It’s a good idea to hire someone who can do that if you are incapable of doing it yourself. If you can’t, hire an experienced company that manages properties. 
  • Make sure there are “No Trespassing” signs everywhere. These signs confirm property ownership. By displaying these signs, you prevent would-be trespassers from entering your property and protect yourself from any lawsuits. 
  • Ensure the property’s entrances are secured. Ensure every door is locked, every window is closed, and the attic is inaccessible as well.
  • As soon as you find out about squatters, it would help if you served them with a written notice. 
  • You should offer them the property for rent. You might think you’re being counterproductive at the time, but you’ll save valuable time and money in the long run. When the property is rented, their stay will be limited for a certain period.
  • You need to contact the sheriff to have them removed. Ensure that you follow the proper legal procedure when you want to remove squatters from a property.
  • If you are renting out your property, bring in a property management company to help you find a good tenant. Renting out your vacant property might be a good option. Besides, you may be able to earn additional income from it.

Understanding squatter rights is crucial to protecting your property and investment as a rental property owner. In addition, you need to understand the laws regarding landlord-tenant relationships, security deposits, and rent increases in your state. Contact an expert property management company if you are having trouble with this.

Philly Home Investor is NO stranger to dealing with properties that have squatters living inside. Over the years we have found certain strategies work with removing squatters and helping sellers during the process. We’ve even purchased properties with squatters living in them depending on the area and situation. If you’re dealing with a squatter and trying to sell your properties give us a call or fill out our form and let us see how we can help.

So whether you have bad tenants or squatters we’d still love to make you a fair as-is offer on your property!

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