Category Archives: Real Estate Law

Can we alter our deed?

Q: My brother and I own property as joint tenants Can I alter the deed so that my wife and I own my 50% as tenants by entirety? We are getting older and he would also like to add his wife to the deed. (West Mifflin, PA)

A: You cannot alter a deed, or just amend it by writing on it. You need to draft a new deed. I suggest you do not handle this yourself and seek an attorney. There would be an attorney fee, and a filing fee of $162 paid to the county. That is it. The transfer is exempt from realty transfer tax so there is no transfer tax to pay. Therefore, it is relatively inexpensive transfer. It would be worth a legal consultation to ensure this transfer is the best thing for all parties involved.

Borough won’t let me sell my house

Q: I am selling a rental house. The borough won’t let me sell it until I get a building inspector to check it for dye tests, taxes, etc. It is now costing me $5,000.00 more when the buyers said they would take it as is and would pay for it since I’m selling it so cheap. Can a municipal borough stop my sale and make me pay for the things before I sell the house? The borough has held us all up for three months. Is this legal when it was already checked two years before I sold? Also, my borough is deep into debt and just got a new building inspector who is a part-timer, third party paid assassin. The new owner doesn’t understand this either. (West Mifflin,PA)

A:  Generally, when you sell a home, the seller must bring the house “up to code” (safety codes to ensure there are safety violations). You can obtain a list of what the borough requires before the municipal inspector comes for his inspection. If everything is up to code before the inspection, a certificate of occupancy is issued by the borough, and there is no reason for the inspector to come back a second time. The purpose of this is to ensure that every time a house is sold it is safe in that it meets all electrical, fire and structural safety standards. Normally, the expense of obtaining the permit is on the seller. However, the seller can negotiate with the buyer to bear this responsibility. I do not know what you have negotiated with the buyer or what your sales agreement says regarding this issue, but you might want to see if the buyer will pay for this expense.

Home is in sheriff sale for back taxes. How long do I have to vacate?

Q: My home is being sold at sheriff sale for back property taxes. How long after the sale do I have to vacate? If no one bids on the property, does the home revert to the school district? Do I own everything in the house beyond personal items (i.e. water heater, electrical fixtures, doors… etc.), can I take these items out of the property before the sale?

A: If someone buys it a Sheriff’s sale, and you are still living in the home, the new owner will have to file an eviction proceeding against you. This will give you some time. A potential buyer may try to buy it for less than taxes owed and the three taxing entities can either accept or reject the offer. If no buyers come through, you can make an offer if you really want the property. You may want to research rentals versus what you will pay the bank. If the house is sold, the house is seized as collateral for the loan and you are not personally liable unless the loan agreement allows the lender to seek a deficiency judgment against you and they are willing to pursue it. You cannot take fixtures from the house-lights, water heater, doors, etc. You can take appliances if you bought them.

Can I force a sheriff sale from the 2nd lien position on a residential property?

Q: Borrower is current on first mortgage, but over 120 days delinquent on the second mortgage. Borrower has refused a loan modification and does not wish to sell the home. There is approximately $70,000-$90,000 in home equity. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You cannot go right to Sheriff’s Sale. You must file a foreclosure proceeding first. Moreover, your mortgage will be second to the first mortgage holder so the first mortgage holder will need to be paid first.

Can she quit claim houses with a HELOC?

Q: My aunt wants to quit claim deed me her residence that she still owes around $50,000 on HELOC. My question is what will happen to that HELOC once the residence is in my name? Will HELOC be her financial responsibility or will it stay attached to the residence that is now deeded to me? If it is still attached to the residence, can I just continue picking up her payments? Or will she have to make her payments on her own? (Pittsburgh, PA)

Q: I will assume that this is a home equity line of credit which is secured by the home through a loan agreement and by a mortgage or lien filed with the Department of Court Records. As such, this lien will follow the residence and never be removed until the balance is paid or it is otherwise removed with the consent of the lien holder/lender or court order. When you take title to this property, you will assume the debt through the lien. If you would default on the payments, the home could be foreclosed upon and seized. As your aunt is obligated on the loan agreement, whether she or her estate would have any personal liability above and beyond the value of the seized home, would require a reading of the lien documents. Be aware that some mortgage and lien documents contain a “due on sale” clause which prohibits a transfer of ownership prior to satisfaction of the lien without lender approval. If such language is present, the entire note could be due immediately upon transfer and lead to foreclosure. If you want to assume payments for your aunt, I would talk to the lender. They may require refinancing in your name or perhaps a less involved assumption of mortgage agreement.

How do I take action against a neighbor for dangerous trees?

Q: My neighbor has 3-4 very large trees overhanging my rooftop and backyard as well as the neighbors on the opposite side. Last June (2016) a 30-40 foot, branch has broken and is now hung up over her and my property. After 11 months and 5 iterations of her “looking into it” she has stated she will do nothing. The branch as well as other branches if knocked down will cause direct harm to my property, dogs, and even my children. At this point I feel like legal action may be necessary to have her properly maintain this tree as well as the other trees in bad shape. All the details have been photographed, 4-5 neighbors have also commented on the trees, and my home owner’s insurance has noted on file in case of damage. Anyone have advice on what to do? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Normally, the municipality that you reside in, whether it is Pittsburgh or a suburb, will have an ordinance on in their code which addresses the excessive growth of trees which trespass on to a neighboring property. Call your local zoning enforcement officer. It should result at a minimum in them coming out to assess the situation to determine if your neighbor should be cited.

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.