What should be done when two or more owners of real estate disagree on what to do with a property? Properties subject to a marital divorce or a deceased’s will are resolved through divorce court and orphan’s court respectively. But there are many other situations where co-owners cannot agree on the use of a property.
Here are some common examples:
co-investors/ developers who jointly purchased a property but now disagree on whether to rent or sell
inheritance property that was re-titled in the name of the heirs but the heirs disagree years later on how to use it
a property purchased by two people anticipating marriage but the relationship ended before marriage
former spouses who kept a property jointly-titled after divorce but later disagreed on its use
Any person who co-owns property with another person has a right to have the property partitioned through the court. Partition can mean a physical dividing, or more often, selling the property and distributing the proceeds. A physical division is not appropriate for most properties. Imagine what would happen if the court ordered the division of a one-acre lot containing a single family home. For this reason, courts often order liquidation except for properties like large tracts of vacant land.
How exactly to divide the proceeds is the more difficult part.
It can be difficult to think of the late stages of life when our once vibrant faculties are diminished or lost. It is no easy task to plan during the healthy years for a time when decision-making power is lost. The best practice is to create and regularly update a basic estate planning package with a will, power of attorney and health care directive.
But sometimes those important documents are lost, or the nominees named within are unavailable. When a health tragedy strikes that causes a property owner to become incapacitated, it becomes too late to sign a power of attorney. A person who is no longer competent to handle their legal affairs cannot nominate an attorney-in-fact no matter how serious a pending legal issue may be.
What can be done for a property owner facing a serious legal problem when the person is incapacitated and does not have a power of attorney?
In many areas of Pennsylvania, people live in homes where title to the property is not clear. Unclear title is especially prevalent in cities with older homes. Two examples are tenant-landlord relationships where the landlord disappeared or died and inheritance properties where the legal process was never completed.
Residents of a so-called “tangled title” property may face serious difficulties maintaining the property. Residents without clear title cannot obtain home improvement loans even when serious structural defects arise. If the property taxes fall behind, the local government will not offer owner-occupied payment plans to a person who does not have title. These properties often stagnant and become a blight on the surrounding neighborhood.
Pennsylvania has an existing abandoned property law known as “adverse possession” designed to settle title in unclear situations. The law is undergoing major revisions for residential properties starting June 2019. These changes will affect the rights of both property owners and residents of the properties.
Here are the upcoming requirements to bring a claim to re-title a property.