A recent Commonwealth Court decision affirmed that municipalities within Pennsylvania are not immune from claims of adverse possession. In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, 181 A3d. 1289 (Pa. Commw. 2018), the Commonwealth Court held that the City of Philadelphia had lost title to a property that it had previously condemned to an adjacent property owner who adversely possessed the property.
The City had acquired the property in 1974 by condemnation for the purpose of allowing PennDOT a temporary right-of-way across the property during the construction of an adjacent roadway. After the Commonwealth completed its use of the temporary right-of-way, the City had no use for the property and did nothing with it for the next several decades. The adjacent property owner began to use the plot. When the City sought to eject him from the property in 2013, he claimed he owned the plot by adverse possession. The Commonwealth Court agreed, finding that while the State is immune from claims of adverse possession, municipalities are not.
The Commonwealth Court reiterated the rule that lands of the Commonwealth itself cannot be acquired by adverse possession, but further held that land owned by municipalities is subject to such acquisition. In this case, the City was not using the property for a public use and was not holding it any longer at the behest of the Commonwealth. The Court found significant the fact that the City had no legal obligation to hold the property and no real need for it. Because the property was not for public use, it was susceptible to acquisition by adverse possession. The case in an interesting reminder that a vacant property held on for future sale maybe the subject of a claim of adverse possession. Municipality should keep in mind that they should not hold properties for sale with no obvious current or reasonably anticipated future use.
For more information on this topic contact any of the members of the McNees Real Estate and Public Sector Groups.