Frank Galdo built a treehouse, parking spot and added a fire pit to property across the street from his Philadelphia home over the course of more than 25 years. His kids played there. Family and friends played horseshoes and attended cookouts there.
The problem was, the property didn’t belong to Galdo. It belonged to the city of Philadelphia, and in 2013, they filed a trespassing and ejection claim against Galdo and asked him to remove his personal items.
Galdo sued, saying because he improved the abandoned property, he had a claim on the property under the legal term “adverse possession.” After a lower court ruled in Galdo’s favor, Philadelphia appealed and the case was recently argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Many adverse possession claims are between private property owners. Because this property, known as the “Galdo parcel” in court documents, belongs to a municipality, the situation is more complicated.
The city condemned the property on behalf the state in 1974 so that a rail line could be moved during the construction of I-95. Since the property was condemned for the state, which always has immunity in these types of legal actions, Gardo cannot claim adverse possession, argued Craig Gottlieb, the attorney for the city of Philadelphia.
David Scaggs, Galdo’s attorney, argued the opposite, saying the city is not the state and the claim could be filed.
“The city could have sold the property,” Scaggs said. “They could have used the property.”
The city had always intended to sell the property, Gottlieb said. But the city had no responsibility to take care of the property, Gottlieb said in response to a question from Justice Kevin Dougherty.
“So you can just take property while taxpayers pay their property taxes for houses beside you, leave it abandoned for 20-some years at the decrease of their property value, yet you get the profits now that the Kensington area is booming?” Dougherty asked. “Is that your position?”
“That was the purpose in acquiring the property,” Gottlieb replied.
Some efforts were made to sell the property in 2008 and 2010, Gottlieb said. But Justice Christine Donohue asked how the public was to know that the property was for sale.
“Isn’t there some evidence that there was an effort by the city to sell it?” she asked.
The effort was “passive,” and not active, Gottlieb replied.
The court’s ruling is expected by the end of the year.