When can I own the land I’ve been mowing and maintaining?

Q: I moved into my house a little over 10 years ago, but the house has been in the family for much, much longer. The side lot has been owned by the borough of Munhall and for the first couple of years they mowed it. However, I started mowing it and maintaining it about 7-8 years ago. I’ve been using it ever since. I recently bought a boat and had a complaint about it being parked on the street. The policeman told me to put it in “my side yard”, so I did. Now today, the borough code enforcer showed up saying he had a complaint on the boat being in the “empty lot” and that I had to buy the land or move the boat. So, my question is do I have a leg to stand on for acquiring this lot due to me mowing and maintaining it? Or, am I going get stuck having to buy this lot? (Munhall, PA)

A: The 21-year Adverse Possession Doctrine states that if one possessed another’s property, open and notoriously for 21 years, he can legally claim it. You don’t have 21 years and this ancient doctrine has other pitfalls including litigation. Unless this is a desirable area and it is a lot upon which someone could build a home, I think with a little research you could get it from Munhall cheap. Currently it is not generating tax revenue for Munhall. If no one has offered to purchase it in 10 years, chances are no one wants it and the Borough may deal on it. Talk to the Code Officer, the Mayor and anyone you know on council. Before you do, research the value of similar vacant lots in the Borough and whether the lot is one that can even be built on, given its dimensions and applicable zoning code regulations including set-back requirements.

Can a father defend against his older adult son’s threat of filing for adverse possession?

Q: The father let his son move back home in 1989 but the son was disturbed and abusive so the father started staying with someone else over 21 years ago. The father has clear title and has paid for all utilities and maintenance and kept getting his mail at the house. His son was welcomed as a guest until 2014 when it was discovered that he had filled the house with a hoard. The father wanted to use his house because it was very close to the hospital where he was getting treatments. In 2014 the father gave the son over a year to correct the code violations or move out in 2015. Now the son is claiming the house should be his and changed the locks.

A: The son can claim anything he wants but my guess is he won’t find a lawyer to challenge father’s title to the house. There is old common law that if a person uses another person’s real estate, as his own, notoriously, to the exclusion of the other person, he can claim it by the doctrine of adverse possession. It is a novel procedure and I have never seen it enforced. If the father has paid all utilities and maintenance for all of these years, the son has hardly used the property to the exclusion of the father. I think the father can evict the son. The father may want to consult with a real estate attorney and give son proper notice to vacate.