Category Archives: Real Estate Law

Can we get brother’s girlfriend out of the house?

Q: Our mom died and left the house to her children. The house is in the name of the three kids and we live there. My brother left the house. Unfortunately for my sister and I, he left his mentally unstable girlfriend in the house. We want her out. Now. We were thinking of locking her out and leaving her stuff under the carport for her to pick up. Someone said this may not be legal. (Swissvale, PA)

A: If she has been living there for a period of time with your consent, she may have developed rights as a month to month tenant under landlord tenant law. Therefore, you may have to evict her by filing a complaint at the local District Justice. You may want to call your local District Justice about this. They handle many evictions and may have some advice or at a minimum tell you what you need to do to start an eviction.

Can my sister keep me off my mother’s property?

Q: My family owns 52 acres. The property was my dad and uncles and my dad’s part went to my mom when he died. I lived there for over 23 years in the main house but moved into an RV on the property so my mother, sister, and her husband and kids could have the house. I alone paid the 2-year delinquent property taxes. Before that we had all pitched in on them. Then recently, my sister and I had a falling out and my wife and I left for a few weeks to let things calm down and in our absence my sister sold my RV, kept the money, and told my mother that if she allows me to come back to the property, that she will move away and no longer provide care for her. Don’t I have some legal right to be there since I paid the $10,000.00 in back taxes? Can I file charges against my sister for selling my RV?

A: Based on the facts you have given, if your mother and uncle are on the deed to the property, your mother and uncle are the only ones who can exclude you from the property. The only way your sister can legally exclude you from the property is if she is acting under a Power of Attorney for one or both, or gets a court order which bars you from the property. The fact that you paid real estate taxes for them alone gives you no right to be on the property without your mother or uncle’s consent. And yes, if you owned the RV, and have proof your sister sold the RV, you may have a civil claim against her, and she may have even committed a crime. If this was someone else’s RV, like your mothers, and you don’t own it, your sister may be liable for your belongings inside. She basically evicted you without following the law and converted your personal property inside the RV.

Can home be titled “with a right to survivorship” if in unequal shares?

Q: My boyfriend and I are buying a home together. We wish to own the home in unequal shares, since most of the money being used for the purchase belongs to him. Is there a way to title the property so that if he passes away, his share of the home will go to me and vice versa? His share is 70% and mine 30%. We are buying the home outright with cash, but since we have children together he wants to be sure that if one of us dies, the deceased shares will pass on to the other person on the deed. The attorney we spoke with said this “can’t be done”, that we would instead have to create Wills and leave each other our respective shares in the property, and that the titled would have to be held as “tenants in common”. (Mt. Lebanon, PA)

A: No, joint tenants cannot hold uneven shares. The idea with joint tenancy is the when one tenant passes, the survivor owns the whole share. Tenants-in-common can own uneven shares because when one dies, his or her share passes into his or her estate. Your options are to be tenants in common on the deed or have wills drafted that address the disposition of the property.

Can I make my neighbor repair his half of the garage?

Q: I have a garage built on my lot long before I moved into my house. It straddles the property line. My neighbor and I each own one-half of the garage. My neighbor has failed to maintain his one-half to the point it is unsafe to use in its entirety. Can I compel him to repair his one-half? Can I remove entire structure, or can I effect repairs without his permission? (Plum Borough, PA)

A: This is a difficult situation and there are few things worse than bad neighbors. The easiest way would be to work this out with him. If that is not possible, talk to your local zoning officer. If his half of the garage is unsafe, unsightly or not up to code, the zoning officer can issue a citation and he will be given so many days to make repairs. If no such compliance is met, he can be hauled into court and fined or ordered to comply. As far as a civil or equity suit filed at the local magistrate or in the Court of Common Pleas, there is a remedy against property owners whose failure to maintain their property adversely affects adjoining or neighboring property. I once used it to get a judgment against the owner of an adjoining wall who failure to maintain it undermined the yard and foundation of my client’s house. I would need to research this cause of action more. Beware that having a judgment against another person can be useless if they do not pay or have no assets to attach. I suggest that you go through the zoning officer first.

Can my father transfer property to me without his wife’s signature?

Q: The property in question, was his before the marriage and they have never lived on it or made any improvements. I have been the sole resident for 28yrs. She has contributed nothing to it and has been there maybe once. (Cecil Twp., PA)

A: There is a PA Divorce Code issue here. Although the property would be considered non-marital, as he owned it prior to the marriage, his spouse may have an interest in it. Her interest would be in the increase of value of the house from the date of the marriage to the date of the sale/transfer/gift (if any increase at all). In my practice, I have the spouse sign off any interest she may have acquired under the PA Divorce Code.

How do I handle a neighbor’s roof runoff between our houses?

Q: I suspect this neighbor (who recently had their roof and gutters redone) is now running a drainage hose from their property into a utility easement between our houses. They are on a hill behind my house with a utility easement between us. My yard is getting flooded every time it rains and the neighbor next to me is getting a flood of water down his hill, which then also runs into my yard. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: There are general land use laws that hold that one land owner cannot create a situation which allows water to run off his property and on to the property of others. Before hiring an attorney, you need to take photos, keep a log of all activity, and contact your local zoning enforcement officer. He can look at it and advise you. If what you are saying is accurate, the zoning officer should contact the neighbor and tell him or her to stop and if necessary issue a cease and desist letter. If that doesn’t work, there is a citation process which may be authorized under your borough zoning and/or land use code. You may also ask the zoning officer to direct you to the applicable sections of the zoning code and perhaps get a copy from the borough or township.

Neighbors tree roots cracking my driveway?

Q: My elderly neighbor recently passed away. I approached the executor of her estate to cut down tree! She stated she had more important issues to deal with. What is my recourse? Can I sue? (Swissvale, PA)

A: If you do have a cause of action, or law suit, it would be against the estate, which is good. When an estate is opened, all you need to do is file a claim in Orphan’s Court, which is a one-page document. You don’t need to sue in the traditional sense, by filing and serving a complaint and then having a trial, all in compliance with the rules of civil procedure. As to whether you have a legitimate case, you should sit down with and attorney to review all the facts. Causation is important as well as whether you have notified the deceased person in the past about the tree roots encroaching on the property. I would try to talk to the Executor. I would also get an opinion in writing that the tree roots have caused the damage and what it will cost to make repairs.

What can I do to stop my neighbor from holding big swinger’s parties?

Q: The parties bring attendees from a few neighboring states. Our entire street is taken by cars parked on both sides. They come and go at all hours. They’re noisy and can be a very disturbing sight because of their wardrobe. I believe neighbor profits from activity since partygoers wear wristbands. I already asked neighbor to at least downsize his activities. He did nothing. Entire community is affected by this! (Monroeville, PA)

A: You could just keep calling the police when the noise erupts. My approach would be to get a copy of the Borough Zoning Ordinance and read it and become familiar with the applicable portions. I would do this before I talk to the Zoning Officer. It is very likely that the borough would have noise violations and possibly even parking restrictions if the street becomes that congested. You can also have neighbors unify and attend a  council meeting. You probably need to schedule ahead of time if you want to speak. The more attention the neighbor’s house gets, the more likely they are to curtail their operations and move elsewhere.

Property in both of our names

Q: My boyfriend threw me out of the house and said that the property is his now because I traded him a car for it. This is not true, it never happened nothing is in writing. We both made payments on the mortgage and taxes. How should the court handle this situation? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Whoever is on the deed owns the house. If your name is not on the deed and his is, you don’t have claim unless you are married to him. If you are on the deed with him as an owner, he cannot remove you from the deed without your signature. More information is needed-is the property held as joint-tenants with right of survivorship or as tenants-in-common? Is there a mortgage? I suggest you speak with a lawyer.

Fraudulent Seller Disclosure?

Q: I purchased a home in Pittsburgh, PA and when I viewed the home it had a sinkhole along the front yard property line. The realtor explained it was due to a broken storm drain pipe and the break was on the neighbor’s side of the property line. The neighbor refused to fix it, so the seller agreed to have it fixed as it was causing issue with the seller’s property (front yard). Six months later there is now a sinkhole in the back yard. The township said the pipe zigzags between my property line and the neighbor’s property line and they can’t force either one of us to fix it as it is private property. This sinkhole is on my property line, so I now I need to fix it. The seller home disclosure did not state any knowledge of this drain pipe or that I would have to fix it. Do I have a case for a fraudulent seller disclosure? (Jefferson Hills, PA)

A: These cases are fact driven and hard to prove, and more facts need to be known. However, it is worth a legal consultation. To prove fraud, I believe you need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or had reason to know of the problem you are alleging and tried to conceal it from you. It is a hard standard, but more facts are needed to determine if you have a claim.