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Philadelphia Real Estate Law Blog

The residential real estate process is important to understand

Purchasing a home is typically a significant transaction in the lives of home buyers which is also true when homeowners are selling a home. There are a variety of important steps in the residential home buying or home-selling process. It is helpful for home buyers or sellers to be as familiar as possible with the elements and legal requirements of the process which can help ensure a smooth experience and successful transaction.

The different steps in the residential real estate home buying or home-selling process include negotiating, drafting and reviewing sales contracts; reviewing inspection reports; reviewing seller disclosures; ordering title insurance and title examinations; examining the deed; conveyancing; analyzing the settlement sheet; and attending the closing. In addition, there are many specific details associated with each step that are part of the purchase or sale of a home that both buyers and sellers should be familiar with.

Pennsylvania pipeline implicates property owner rights

The planned construction of a natural gas pipeline through central Pennsylvania makes it essential for affected property owners to understand their rights. The pipeline will pass through 10 Pennsylvania counties. Property owners will be notified that their lands may be taken by the government under the doctrine of eminent domain, which allows for the taking of private lands for public use provided the owner is paid just compensation.

The natural gas companies involved in the pipeline project will be required to pay affected landowners just compensation based on the appraised value of their properties. According to Pennsylvania eminent domain law, the entity taking the property is required to reimburse property owners for up to $4,000 in appraisal costs and other costs of representation.

When a breach of contract leads to real estate litigation

Contracts are an essential aspect of real estate transactions in Pennsylvania. Because contracts are such a common part of doing business, and are important to the success of a business, it is helpful for business owners and parties engaged in a real estate transaction to understand the basics of how contracts work.

A contract is simply an agreement that creates legally enforceable rights and obligations between the parties. A contract must contain certain elements in order to be enforceable. Although it is possible to create a legally enforceable oral contract, all real estate contracts must be in writing.

Appeals court limits scope of notice

A notice of lis pendens is frequently filed by one or more parties to a lawsuit that may affect the title to or enforceability of a lien on real property. Pennsylvania courts recognize a writ of lis pendens as a means of notifying innocent parties that title to the real estate may be affected by the outcome of the real estate dispute. The filing of a praecipe (notice) of lis pendens does not create a lien on the property, but it can affect the title holder's ability to sell the property or to borrow money using the property as collateral. A recent decision by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has defined important limits to the use of lis pendens.

The case arises out of a dispute between GLD Foremost Holdings and the former owner of Foremost Industries, Inc. over the alleged breach of a stock purchase agreement between the holding company and its former owner. The owner filed a complaint in federal court in November 2015 alleging that the holding company failed to pay sums due under the stock purchase agreement. The holding company counter sued for damages alleging that the former owner fraudulently transferred real property that belonged to the company.

Eminent domain: what is a fair price for property?

Pennsylvania property owners may be surprised to one day find the government requiring them to relinquish their property for some sort of public purpose. Per eminent domain laws, the government has the ability to take private land in order to make improvements to streets, install power lines and sewer systems and for other public purposes. This taking is called "condemnation." However, in order to exercise this right, the government must fairly compensate the private individual who owns the property.

When the government determines it will need to take private land to make improvements per eminent domain, it will appraise the property it needs to take in order to come up with an appropriate price, which it will then offer the property owner. If the property owner does not agree on the government's offered price, the issue will be go through the legal process known as a condemnation proceeding. In this type of proceeding, property owners can state what they believe the property is worth and can contest what the government is proposing to do with the property, or the extent to which the intrusion is being made. In general, the government can only exercise its eminent domain rights as much as is necessary to achieve what it needs to do.

Medical marijuana forces zoning code changes

One year ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation that made the growing and sale of marijuana for medical purposes legal in the commonwealth. Now, county boards and zoning boards in the Philadelphia suburbs and elsewhere are beginning to consider how their zoning ordinances must be changed to accommodate the limited legalization of marijuana.

Medical marijuana is used to treat 17 different painful and disabling physical conditions, including autism, cancer, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. The legislation authorizes several forms of medical marijuana, including pills, ointments and gels, but marijuana cigarettes remain prohibited. Therefore, the cannabis plant must undergo significant processing before it can be lawfully sold for medical uses.

Sliver of farmland triggers development fight in Lancaster

Philadelphia is surrounded by farming communities that are slowly giving way to urban development. Even though more than 100,000 acres of rural farm land near Philadelphia is zoned as off-limits to development, the fate a small sliver of farm land near Lancaster has stirred considerable controversy among the residents of Manheim Township.

The principal question is whether the Lancaster County Board will approve what is known as a "sliver taking" to permit construction of a 75-acre housing and retail complex. Sliver takings are an exercise of the power of eminent domain and are generally used to acquire small parcels of land that are necessary for road construction. The sliver taking in this case includes only .3 acre that is needed to build a turn lane. Much of rural Pennsylvania near Philadelphia is zoned to prevent any type of commercial or residential development, but a sliver taking is an exception to this rule. According to preservation advocates, sliver takings are becoming a threat to preserved farm land. The twin increases in funds available for infrastructure spending and the amount of preserved farm land is blamed for the conflict.

Issuance of zoning permit angers Society Hill residents.

Society Hill is one of many historic districts in Philadelphia, and the grant of a zoning permit can invoke review by the city's Historical Commission and design review board. In some circumstances, the grant of a permit can also stir up the neighbors. The recent grant of a conditional use permit to replace a grocery super market with an apartment building has caused resentment among residents of Society Hill, even though the new use is permitted by the zoning code.

The developer, Alterra Property Group, recently announced that it was proceeding with plans to acquire the Acme Grocery Store and replace it with a 53-foot-high apartment building with 65 units. The conditional use permit also allows 43 underground parking spaces. The developer and the grocery store owner had been negotiating the terms of a lease renewal, but the negotiations broke down, leading the developer to obtain the zoning permit for a new structure. The lease expires in two years, and the existing tenant is expected to continue operations until the expiration date.

What is a partition action?

Real property is commonly owned by two or more persons or parties. A common example is a parcel of real property that is given to two or more siblings by their father, or that is owned by a partnership. If the co-owners agree on management or sale of the parcel, they can share its benefits for many years. If, however, the co-owners disagree on whether to sell the property or on how to manage it, Pennsylvania law gives them the right to resolve their property dispute by asking the court to divide the property.

The lawsuit, known as a partition action, must be brought in the county where all or part of the real estate is located. Any joint owner may bring the action. The remaining co-owners must be joined as defendants. If a parcel can be divided without adversely affecting the interests of the other owners, the court shall divide it proportionately among the co-owners according to their interests.

Neighbors sue to overturn zoning approval for cancer center

A long-brewing land use dispute in the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore is now headed for state court. The case centers on a proposal to use a large house on Chester Road for temporary housing for cancer patients and their caregivers. In late December 2016, the Swarthmore Borough Council granted the care center's sponsor, a non-profit organization known as HEADstrong, an accommodation that permitted operation of the center in an RB Residential Zoning District.

The neighbors are claiming that the borough council abused its discretion in failing to following the provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. The act requires municipalities, among other organizations, to grant reasonable accommodations for disabled people to allow them to occupy housing in ways that would, but for the accommodation, be prohibited by the local zoning code. The neighbors are arguing that the HEADstrong center is not eligible for such an accommodation.

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