Property owners often care deeply about protecting the boundaries of their land and preventing unauthorized use. Neighbors who encroach on land violate a sense of pride and ownership that comes with owning land. Some encroachment disputes arise when the boundary is clear but the adjoining landowner believes the encroachment is justified. Other disputes result when the neighbors simply cannot agree on the location of the boundary.
Boundary problems become legal problems when one landowner excludes the adjoining owner or regularly accesses the disputed area. Common examples include erecting a fence, building a carport, or placing a shed. When an adjoining owner excludes a neighboring owner for a long period of time, the adjoining owner may eventually take title to the disputed area (known as “adverse possession”). If the adjoining owner accesses a right of way for many years, such as using snowmobiles over a path to a ski-slope, the owner may permanently acquire a right of way (known as an “easement by prescription”).
Court of Common Pleas Judge Gene Cohen rendered an award in favor of a Philadelphia resident caught up in an unfortunate title dispute. Our client engaged us when she discovered that an investment property she purchased was previously sold to another buyer. Both our client and the prior purchaser were caught up in this dispute because the unscrupulous seller sold the same property in both 2005 and 2012.
Our client purchased the property as an investment in 2012 after a title search was conducted. The title search did not reveal the 2005 purchase because the buyer did not record the deed and did not reside in the property. Once our client recorded her 2012 deed, the prior purchaser immediately rushed to record his 2005 deed. The parties later initiated litigation which resulted in a trial.
Pennsylvania has an anti-blight law that is not well known among inexperienced real estate investors. The law is a way for communities to remedy neighborhood blight when a property owner refuses to clear blight or has abandoned a property. This conservatorship process is available to certain community organizations and qualified neighbors by filing a petition to take control of blighted property.
If the court grants the petition, the conservator will have the right to take possession of the property, complete repairs and sell it. The former owner could receive some proceeds of the sale, but only after deduction of all fees and expenses including the conservator’s fee, rehabilitation costs and payment of professional services used during the conservatorship process. Investors who purchase blighted property without quickly addressing the blight run the risk of losing the investment.