Who owns Centralia PA? In short, the owner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Before the 1980s, the borough of Centralia was mostly owned by private citizens and organizations. This made it much like any other town or city. However, in 1983, Congress approved $42 million to relocate anyone in the borough who wanted to leave. It was a last ditch solution to the mine fire problem, after the many previous attempts to control it failed.
At first, no one was forced to leave Centralia PA. It was entirely voluntary. Once a property owner decided to relocate, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would compensate them and, in return, acquire the deed for the parcel. Eventually the structures on these lots were demolished. This created the empty, forested landscape found througout the town today.
In 1992, Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey declared eminent domain over the remaining, privately owned properties within Centralia. This was done out of concern for the safety of those living there. The remaining residents were asked to leave and the state forcibly acquired the deeds to their lots. Still, some people stayed, and because they refused to relocate, they didn’t receive any compensation for their property.
At this point, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania owned most of the borough. It did not, however, take control of the Centralia Municipal Building or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church on the hill above the town.
Suddenly, those who refused to leave their homes were left in an unusual position. The state owned the deeds to their properties, meaning it was responsible for paying any taxes on their parcels. Additionally, many in the state viewed the remaining residents as squatters, since they no longer owned the homes and had been told to leave.
This frustrating situation sparked a number of legal challenges throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Finally, in 2013 the state reached an agreement with the remaining seven residents of Centralia, Pennsylvania. They would be paid for their properties and could stay there as long as they lived. That said, they could not sell or transfer the land as the state held the deeds.
So, while there are still several inhabited homes in Centralia PA, the people who live in them are not the lawful owners. They have been permitted to stay there by the deeded owner – the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.