Category Archives: Real Estate Law

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.

Neighbor’s French-drain causing run-off onto my land

Q: We have property issues with a French-drain system. My neighbor is running his French-drain run off in to my yard, was not to bad unit this past year they did some work on his house and put a sump pump in and now there is a good bit of water that comes out and helps in flooding a lower section of my yard. Is this legal? The property is in Allegheny county, PA?

A: As a first step, express your concerns to your neighbor and see if he will be a good neighbor and voluntarily remedy the situation. Secondly, you may want to contact your local zoning ordinance person. You need to confirm if there is a local ordinance which prevents this. Thirdly, if you get nowhere with the neighbor or municipality, contact a lawyer. you may have a civil suit as I am fairly sure that landowner cannot create a situation which causes water to run onto landowner property. The last I checked there was common law on this subject. The lawyer may be able to settle it with a letter or put pressure on the local ordinance enforcement person to take action.

Verbal agreements and contracts in land

Q: My uncle owns 10 acres of property in PA. 17 years ago I was looking for property to build a cottage on. We started talking, and he said “you might as well build it here because I’m leaving you this land in my Will anyway.” We agreed to be “partners”; no written agreement exists, and the property remains titled in his name. I performed all the engineering, design, and construction (I am a Master carpenter). He functioned as a laborer. I kept detailed records of all construction materials, and he invested $45k, while I invested $32k. We continue to remain amicable and are not experiencing any conflict regarding ownership. I am just curious – from these limited details, does this “verbal” agreement, my monetary interest and labor, afford me any implied ownership (does a contract exist) in the property should a conflict ever develop between us? Someone mentioned a Statute of Frauds issue? (North Huntington, PA)

A:  I am not sure this is a potential Statue of Frauds problem as it is not a sale of real estate. If a problem occurred between you and he, your position would be much stronger if you had an interest in the real estate. If all work halted due to a disagreement, you would need to sue for your time and materials invested in his property based on his promise. The lawsuit could take years and could be expensive. The problem with him leaving the property to you in his will is that he could change his will at any time. Or, his will may be lost or destroyed at the time that he dies. Or, he needs to apply for Medicaid some day and the property, if in his name, would be included as a Medicaid assets and need to be sold. Perhaps you should discuss your concerns with him. Perhaps transferring title from him to you and he as joint tenants with rights of survivor and sharing real estate taxes would work. If he is open to discussion, consult with a lawyer who has real estate and estate experience.

Can a father defend against his older adult son’s threat of filing for adverse possession?

Q: The father let his son move back home in 1989 but the son was disturbed and abusive so the father started staying with someone else over 21 years ago. The father has clear title and has paid for all utilities and maintenance and kept getting his mail at the house. His son was welcomed as a guest until 2014 when it was discovered that he had filled the house with a hoard. The father wanted to use his house because it was very close to the hospital where he was getting treatments. In 2014 the father gave the son over a year to correct the code violations or move out in 2015. Now the son is claiming the house should be his and changed the locks.

A: The son can claim anything he wants but my guess is he won’t find a lawyer to challenge father’s title to the house. There is old common law that if a person uses another person’s real estate, as his own, notoriously, to the exclusion of the other person, he can claim it by the doctrine of adverse possession. It is a novel procedure and I have never seen it enforced. If the father has paid all utilities and maintenance for all of these years, the son has hardly used the property to the exclusion of the father. I think the father can evict the son. The father may want to consult with a real estate attorney and give son proper notice to vacate.

Is a bill of sale legal for piece of land and how do I get the deed?

Q: The owner sold me part of his land and now he said he can’t split.

A: No one can answer that question on the limited information you have given. I would need to know much, much more. A real estate attorney should review the sales agreement, the deed, the map and so forth. It may be that the seller had good intentions but now he realized he needs to subdivide his lot to sell you a portion. The subdivision of property requires much work and usually involves getting zoning approval from the municipality. It concerns me that you think you were sold a piece of land but do not mention that your name is on the deed. It sounds like neither of you has an attorney and you need the advice.

Threats from next door neighbor-she is 76

Q: We have a 76 year old woman living next door and she is in the habit of taking in homeless people. Last summer some of her” tenants” were seen by my wife and myself using her back yard as a urinal and a portion of it as what we can only describe as a defecation pit. My wife talked to her about this but it went on until I called the city about it. They came out and spoke to her but it still went on. Now she found out that I was the one who called and tonight she came over making threats at our front door beating and banging on it, in a drunken rage, with foul language, then went around back and did the same. We called 911 and the police said maybe I should get a court order so if it occurs again I can press charges. I know she is up in age but some of her tenants shoot guns in the woods and they have been doing drugs on her property also (we smell marijuana smoke and other weird smells). Do you think an anti harassment order would help?

A:  Bad neighbors can be big problems. She is free to do things on her property that are not illegal. If you believe she is violating state laws or zoning ordinances, call the police or the municipality and let them investigate. Keep calling until they do their job. As far as her coming on your property, she can do so for legitimate purposes. If she is not welcome on your property any more, tell her so or provide written notice to her that neither she nor her crew are welcome on your property. If she continues to get drunk and come back over to your house (which often happens with people like this) she will be deemed a trespasser based on your prior notice. Under the law, based on the prior warning, she can be arrested as a trespasser and you can have law enforcement cite her or arrest her for trespassing. As far as a civil order you can probably get one if you continue to establish a record of bad behavior and get some good photos-like the defecation pit and sound recordings of the discharge of guns. However, you would need to pay a lawyer to do this and a civil order will not have the bite that a criminal charge would. Plus, you don’t have to pay the police, or at least should not have to. Perhaps she has lost her faculties due to natural aging or drug and alcohol abuse and a social services agency may help by doing a wellness visit. If they visited her and became concerned, they too could make referrals to the appropriate agency including the police or psychiatric intervention teams. Good luck.