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Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Private practice with focus on family, criminal, PI, consumer protection, and business consultation.
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If I pay 2 1/2 years of property tax on a property, in the

Customer Question

If I pay 2 1/2 years of property tax on a property, in the State of Pennsylvania, even though the current occupant(s) are paying a little bit at a time, can I take ownership of the property?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Ely replied 4 years ago.
Hello friend. My name is Ely, and welcome to JustAnswer. Please note: (1) this is general information only, not legal advice, and, (2) there may be a slight delay between your follow ups and my replies.

Can you please tell me a little more about the situation:

1) Where are the owners?
2) How long have you lived there, uninterrupted?
3) Do the owners ALLOW you to live there? Do they KNOW that you are there?

Anything more that you can tell me would be helpful. This is not an answer, but an Information Request. I need this information to answer your question. Please reply, so I can answer your question. Thank you in advance.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I buy property by paying off back taxes then I flip the property. This is the first property purchase in Pennsylvania. I am not familiar with the laws in Pennsylvania pertaining to such an investment. I do not live nor own the property.

Expert:  Ely replied 4 years ago.
Thank you. Can you then please clarify:

1) Did you purchase the property at a county tax sale; or
2) Did you simply voluntarily and informally pay off some taxes on the property?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am thinking about voluntarily and informally paying off the taxes. I know in some states that when you pay off past due taxes, a person automatically becomes the new owner but I do not know about the State of Pennsylvania.

Expert:  Ely replied 4 years ago.
Thank you and my apologies for the momentary wait as I am typing out your answer now...
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank You Eli!

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

My apologies, I meant Thank You Ely!

Expert:  Ely replied 4 years ago.
No need to apologize for anything!.

Again, my apologies for the wait.

On this website, I do not always get to give good news, and I am afraid that this is one of these times.

What you are describing is called a "tax lien sale." In other words, if the property owner does not pay off the taxes in time, then the county may auction off the property and the buyer pays off the taxes and then takes formal possession of the title. That is how it works, and, I am sure you are aware of this process.

I know in some states that when you pay off past due taxes, a person automatically becomes the new owner but I do not know about the State of Pennsylvania.

That is correct. However, it is not 'automatic.' In other words, this is not done informally, but, via the auction process above. The local government first liens and then auctions off the property. THAT is how you get title, and not by simply paying off the taxes informally.

You may be thinking of 'adverse possession,' wherein someone who makes a claim to the property receives it after a certain amount of time of paying for and living on the property. Otherwise, known as squatter's rights. However, adverse possession has very strict criteria:

One who claims title by adverse possession must prove that he had actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct, and hostile possession of the land for twenty-one years. Each of these elements must exist, otherwise the possession will not confer title. Inn Le'Daerda, Inc. v. Davis, 360 A. 2d 209 - Pa: Superior Court 1976 (internal citations omitted).

Ergo, I am afraid that this does not apply here. Thus, the only way to get property is via the tax lien sale, and not by informally paying off the taxes.

I hope this helps and clarifies.

Please note: I aim to give you genuine information and not necessarily to tell you only what you wish to hear. Please, rate me on the quality of my information and do not punish me for my honesty. I understand that hearing things less than optimal is not easy, and I empathize.

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