Category Archives: Real Estate Law

How do you stop a group mental home from moving to your street?

Q: There is a government subsidized group home for people that are mentally challenged that is planning to buy the lot that is across the street from my house, which is in an area zoned R-1. My concerns are that I have a fifteen-year old daughter. I learned from a police officer that’s one of the residents on the street that the group home was renting in a different location, and there have been problems. One of the residents of the home has walked around the neighborhood and been caught looking-into houses. They could also be violent or sex offenders. I would like to stop them from buying across the street. What would it take to stop them from moving in? Can a group home move into an area zoned R-1? (Baldwin, PA)

A:  If they are mentally challenged, you can probably outsmart them. If what they propose is not a permissible use under the zoning code, they may have to seek a variance, which puts a very high burden on them. The question is all about whether the proposed plan meets the criteria of your local zoning ordinance. You can do many things. Go to the borough building and get a copy of the most recent zoning code and read it. You can contact the zoning code enforcement officer and tell him your concerns and ask him why the proposed use does or does not meet the zoning code. Find out from the borough secretary when borough council meets and ask the procedure for citizens to appear and address council. Also, as mentioned, join in with your neighbors and unite to oppose the proposed use. Circulate petitions against. You can also hire a lawyer to advocate for you. Do not wait until it is too late to start your legal opposition. Lastly, which I do not advise, you can arm yourself legally and take advantage of the Commonwealth’s nifty expanded deadly force laws.

What are my options and next steps?

Q: I am writing on behalf of my mother. She purchased a house in Georgia with her daughter approximately 8 years ago. Due to her daughter neglecting her health and well- being she came to live with me about 2-3 years ago in Pittsburgh. My mother has a trust that includes her share of the house and I am the trustee. Her daughter was able to refinance the house without my mother’s signature. The mortgage company has sent a notice to the trust, my mother and her daughter for the money. The notice from the attorneys for the mortgage company say the money was distributed in error. My mother nor the trust received any money, but I believe her daughter did and may have purchased a new home with the money. Your guidance on this matter would be greatly appreciated. (Baden, PA)

A: This is somewhat complicated and you need a lawyer in GA. My thought is that if this is a fraudulent transfer, the bank cannot legally foreclose on the house. However, my experience with banks lead me to believe that they will try. Do not do this on your own and try to negotiate with the bank. An attorney needs to review the trust instrument as well as the deed which should be titled in the name of the trust. In addition, your attorney will need to look at all the documents indicating how your mother’s daughter got a loan on a house titled (hopefully and presumably) in the name of a trust. Do not wait to act on this.

Can I get out of a Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate that I signed?

Q: I signed a Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate and closing is scheduled for 7/26. I suffer from major depression and I was also withdrawing from a prescription from my doctor. I do not believe I was of sound mind and capable of making the decision at the time. Can I void the sale and cancel the closing? What are the potential consequences if I do this? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Your stated reason for rescinding the sales agreement will likely not be valid and I therefore would not disclose this to anyone. The answer lies within the language of the sales agreement. The damages against you may be limited to the security deposit. If so, the seller therefore cannot seek consequential damages. Read the paragraph which addresses damages. I am not sure which version of the sales agreement you have but it may be paragraph 22. If your damages are not limited by the wording of the agreement, I would pay an attorney to examine language of the agreement pertaining to inspections and other conditions precedent to acceptance of the property. If you have not already had an inspection performed, a building inspector may be very helpful to you. Follow the advice of your attorney.

Limited Power of Attorney question

Q: There are seven owners (including myself) of a property. I wish to get a Limited Power of Attorney (POA) from the other six that will give me the ability to list and sell the property. Do I have to customize the POA for the state where each owner lives or can I simply use the POA for the state where the property is located? Also, one owner lives in France, will that POA must be different? (Seven Fields, PA)

A: If you are using a Power of Attorney in the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania, it must comply with Pennsylvania law. A limited power of attorney for specific purposes, such as one for selling real estate or representing another person at a real estate closing, is not a General Durable Power of Attorney and therefore does not need to comply explicitly section 5602 of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciary Code. You would be better having an attorney draft a limited power of attorney. If you want to handle it on your own, the only basic advice I can give you is to make sure none of the parties to the document are minors or incompetent and that the scope of your powers (what you are doing for them) are clear.

Can we buy the same house with another Agent after initial Buyer Agency Contract expired?

Q: Can we buy the same house through another Agent after the expiration of initial Buyer Agency Contract, without any liability to the first Agent?

A: Be careful. Read the contract carefully. It is possible that the first agent will claim a commission if he was the one who first procured or engaged the seller for you. I suggest your contact a lawyer who handles real estate litigation.

Can a creditor go after additional assets to pay off a lien?

Q: There is a water lien on an inherited property from an old disputed water bill. We are happy to give the county this property as it is barely worth the lien. There are other assets in the portfolio however. Can they come after anything else?

A: It depends if you are sued in rem or in persona or both. Some real estate taxing entities and municipal service vendors, only seek to reclaim the real estate, which is in rem. If the proceeds gathered from the sale of the real estate, do not satisfy the claim, sometimes a “deficiency” claim is pursued against the persons who are record owners or heirs of record owners. This is called in personam. You can ask the water company how they handle this or what other options you may have. You can also consult with a local attorney who may have knowledge of the practices of your local tax collections services.

How can I remove a joint owner’s name from a residential property deed?

Q: If a cosigner on a mortgage has assumed all financial responsibility due to the joint owner’s default what is the process to get that joint owner off the deed or title? In Pennsylvania. No relation or marriage was involved just an act of good faith. The other party is not agreeable or even available or whereabouts unknown. Concerns around the other party’s debts continuing to mount in the way of liens on property. Intent to keep property but need to remove negligent party’s interests and ownership.

A: If your information is correct, that you are on the deed to real estate with someone else and the someone else will not sign off on a deed, you have a problem. If they are disagreeable, you may need to buy their interest out, or otherwise convince them to sign a new deed from both of you to you. If that is not possible, you will need to file an action for partition for real estate, which is expensive and time consuming. If their whereabouts are unknown, you may be able to serve them by public notice or advertising. You would need to discuss all the details with a lawyer for a more definite answer. Also, you may have a potential problem if the mortgagee (bank/lender) will not agree to taking the other person off the deed. You would need to seek their permission.

How to get a person’s name off a house?

Q: My aunt bought a house decades ago and paid cash for it… It had been entirely in her name only as she was a widow at the time with younger children. My aunt put her sons name on her house 15 or 20 years-ago when she was married to a man that ended in divorce. She believed in doing so it would protect the house from the husband. Now the son, who has always lived with her, has turned into bi-polar? and a slob and a hoarder and his stuff is encroaching into the entire house, except her bedroom. He also is very verbally abusive to his mother. She has health issues and he refuses to do anything because he says he owns half the house and he pays half of the expenses. Is there any way to get his name off the deed without her buying him out or having him sign anything; especially when she is the one who paid in full for the house originally?

A: Once someone’s name is on the deed, you must get them to sign a new deed to get their name off, unless they die, assuming the property is held as joint tenants with survivorship. She must get him to agree to sign a deed from both to her. or buy him out. If that is not possible a partition action can be filed. These are expensive and time consuming. If he is verbally abusive, you might want to consider advising her to consult with an attorney regarding the filing of a Protection of Abuse Petition. This would in effect, get him out of the home, but would not affect his property rights.

When I sell, can the new owner get a more fair- market rent from my current tenants?

Q: I own property and buildings that I want to sell. The problem is, I have a business tenant on my property who has a long-term lease but only pays $1.00 per YEAR in rent. Obviously, no one is going to buy the property with a lease like that in place. Can a new owner claim market unfairness in such a lease and get the tenants to pay a fair market rent? If not, then I will never be able to sell my property in my lifetime. Surely, there would be some legal remedy for a new owner? (McDonald, PA)

A: You need to have the lease reviewed by an attorney to determine if it can be challenged. If you inherited this tenant when you bought the property, you need to have your sales agreement checked to see if this lease contract was assignable or even mentioned. If he has as lock tight agreement, you may need to buy him out. I would have to research if there is any common-law limit on the number of years a lease like this can be legally in effect.

What should I do? How can I get her name off the deed?

Q: I bought a home with my ex fiancé, then we broke up. Her name is on the deed but not the mortgage. I want her name off the deed. We agreed, over text, that I owe her $600 and she would take her name off the deed. I still have the texts. But now she’s saying she doesn’t want to take her name off. What should I do?

A:  I have seen situations where one person, even a spouse, is on the deed but not on the mortgage. You have a problem if she will not voluntarily sign a deed to you. If she has any equity in the home, through mortgage payments, or has contributed to the value, as in paying for improvements, you may need to put a number on that and buy her out. If that won’t work, there are two options: a) file a quiet title action in court which is very expensive and time consuming, or b) stop paying the mortgage and have the home foreclosed on. I do not recommend this. It will cause legal proceedings to be initiated against both of you. You can give the lender her contact information and they will harass her as well. You will suffer more harm than she as your credit will take a huge hit, but she may not like being sued. If she gives in and signs, you will be assessed legal fees on top of interest and costs if you are allowed to cure the default on the mortgage.