Category Archives: Real Estate Law

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.

Can my lender sell my property and accelerate a heloc?

Q: I have been sick for over one year and my income has drastically decreased. My life is in shambles. Car was repossessed, no cable, internet or home phone, gas and electric. I have shutoff notices, but I was eligible for programs to help me. Today I opened the mail and a letter from my bank where I have a 30K HELOC is telling me they have charged off the balance on my account of $30,788.88 and accelerated this balance. Now I owe it in full. I’ve been trying to work with them for the last 6 months and have gotten nowhere. They were sending me an application for a hardship assistance, but I NEVER got them. They said it was sent twice. My main concern is if they can foreclose on my mortgage and must I pay them in full? I’m not even working, I don’t have that kind of money laying around. I am frightened and don’t know what to do, please help me, I am really scared. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Get to a consumer law attorney immediately. If this home equity line of credit is a lien filed on your home, they certainly can foreclose. It is my hope that a civil complaint has not been filed against you and you failed to answer it and thereby a default judgment has been taken against you. If there is time to answer the complaint, an attorney can do that which will slow the process. The creditor cannot just foreclose without filing a lawsuit against you and obtaining a judgment in court. Normally, the creditor goes after the property and does not seek a judgment against you personally, for any deficiency between what the house resells for and what you owed on the contract. However, the contract would need to be reviewed in order to confirm this. Again, look for an attorney.

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.