Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Consider Making It Easier To Acquire Real Estate Through Adverse Possession; Aim Is To Reduce Blight, Say Supporters

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently ran a story reporting that the state legislature is considering making it easier for people to acquire real estate through adverse possession. A bill proposes reducing the required time frame for filing an adverse possession lawsuit from 21 to 10 years, and in some rare cases only three years.(1) According to the story:

  • While the idea of taking another's property for one's own use without paying could be considered a hostile act, the spirit of the bill, supporters say, is to reduce blight. They argue that reducing the time frame required to file an adverse possession claim could reduce the likelihood that someone maintaining a home would abandon it, in turn helping stabilize vulnerable neighborhoods and improving the real estate tax base.

  • The Pennsylvania Bar Association, which represents more than 29,000 lawyers throughout the state, is opposed to making it easier for anyone to acquire someone else's property. "The bar's concern is that [the bill], as written, may have the unintended results of encouraging speculators to act as squatters who seize property from distant property owners, and increasing the potential for disputes between and among neighbors and family members as to the title to real property," said Louis Kodumal, an attorney at Vincent B. Mancini & Associates in Media, in southeastern Pennsylvania, in testimony before the state House Urban Affairs Committee in September.

For more, see Proposed change in law would benefit those who live in dwellings they don't own.

(1) The story profiles Kenneth Bumbrey, a Pittsburgh resident who is attempting to use adverse possession to acquire the home he has been living in for the last 23 years. The home was once co-owned by his grandmother and an aunt. Mr. Bumbrey's grandmother's will left her half interest in the property to six beneficiaries and their heirs. The other half interest belonging to the aunt passed to her only child, who ended up with a majority interest. Mr. Bumbrey's mother was one of six beneficiaries under the will. When she died in 1987, her share passed to her five children. As beneficiaries keep dying, their interests passed to their heirs, giving rise to an increasing number of fractional ownership interests in the home, which is currently co-owned by Mr. Bumbrey (who, by my calculation, owns a 1/60 "sliver" of title in the home - 1/2 x 1/6 x 1/5) with relatives scattered around the country (some of whom, he says, he may not even know). "There is just a zillion fractional interests making up now 40 percent of the property," a local housing advocate familiar with the case said.

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