The PA Commonwealth Court recently held that a claim of adverse possession could be brought against a municipality when the municipality’s only use of the property during the statutory period was to hold the property for possible future sale. In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, the City of Philadelphia obtained title to a property by condemnation in 1974. The City has not physically occupied or provided any maintenance of the Property since the late 1970s. The City filed a complaint against Galdo – the current owner of the property – for continuing trespass, permanent trespass, and ejectment, and Galdo filed a counterclaim to quiet title, claiming ownership by adverse possession.
The trial court found in favor of the City and ordered Galdo ejected from the disputed property. The trial court further determined that Galdo could not sustain a claim for adverse possession against the City because the Property was devoted to public use.
The Commonwealth Court, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the trial court finding that Galdo could bring a claim for adverse possession. The Court explained:
The City does not provide any analogous obligation imposed by law or evidence of any public use of the Property to justify holding and neglecting it for decades. Furthermore, were we to determine that a municipality that condemns and holds previously private property for possible future sale did so for a public use, we would essentially hold that municipalities could institute a taking of private property for a land bank, keeping the property until the market provides a considerable profit upon its sale. Such a holding would be detrimental to private property rights. The City is not, therefore, immune from Galdo’s counterclaim for adverse possession because it did not hold the Property pursuant to a legal obligation, or for public use.