Legal Ramifications of Inheriting a Home with a Squatter Residing on the Property
Congratulations! As the last remaining relative alive, you have just inherited the mountain vacation home from your long lost Great Aunt Bertha. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the property you believed to be empty is actually occupied by squatters. Even if you have not decided if you will live in the house, sell it or rent it, there is one thing you do know ~ you want the squatters out!
What is a squatter? Squatters occupy an apparently vacant or abandoned property as if it were their own residence. They receive mail there, have working utilities, and move right in. Occasionally, squatters are victims of a real estate scam, where they may be paying rent to a fraudulent “landlord.” More often, however, squatters have provided falsified paperwork to obtain rights and take possession of the property. Squatters should not be confused with trespassers, who generally gain entry by breaking in and who do not have utilities or furniture in the home.
As a general rule, if you had been the owner of the home all along and you had a landlord-tenant relationship with the persons residing there, you would first have the tenants served with an eviction notice, also known as a Notice to Quit. If the tenants fail to move out by the deadline indicated on the notice, your next step as homeowner would be to file a landlord-tenant complaint, which starts the process of an eviction lawsuit. Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 stipulates the steps the landlord (property owner) must take to serve the tenants with the official complaint notice so that a court hearing can be scheduled. Needless to say, this entire process can go on for months.
The situation and process involving squatter-occupied property you inherit is different, however. In this case, as the new owner of the mountain vacation home, even if you have documentation that proves you as such, the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 would not apply; nor would the process to serve the squatters with an eviction notice or eviction complaint. In fact, the Landlord-Tenant Court would not be the proper venue for filing any complaint at all.
In this case, as the new homeowner wishing to take possession of your newly inherited property from squatters, you would have no choice but to file an ejectment action, that is, bring a suit against the squatters for ejectment. This process would require you to file a formal (legal) complaint in which you describe the land and indicate that you have an immediate right to take possession of the land in a higher Pennsylvania Court, known as the Court of the Common Pleas in the county wherein the property is located. The squatters can, of course, mount their own defense for remaining on the property for a variety of reasons.
Because of the legal filing requirements and resulting ramifications that can occur in an ejectment action, it is always recommended that the new/actual property owner consult an attorney in the matter. In this case, a probate attorney who has experience filing Ejectment actions is well suited to assist because they have the means to provide the legal substantiation and basis for you take possession of the property. A qualified probate lawyer will file the necessary Complaint with the Court, and work hard to obtain a favorable judgment on your behalf.
As an experienced probate attorney in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, I work regularly with heirs, beneficiaries or the Executor or Administrator of an Estate in handling the legal aspects of ejecting a squatter from an estate owned piece of real property. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 267.399.3710 for your free initial consultation on how I can assist you in ejecting squatters from your home so that you may take full possession of property that is rightfully yours.