Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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In 2012, Scott Township in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter upon any property within the Township to determine the existence and location of any cemetery. The ordinance compels property owners to hold their private cemeteries open to the public during daylight hours. Knick challenged the ordinance as authorizing unrestrained searches of private property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and as taking private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the “ordinance is extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” important justiciability considerations preclude reaching the merits. Because Knick conceded that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and failed to demonstrate that they imminently will be, Knick lacks standing to advance her Fourth Amendment challenge. Knick’s Fifth Amendment claims are not ripe until she has sought and been denied just compensation using Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation procedures, as required by Supreme Court precedent. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania statute, prohibiting payment of fire insurance proceeds to named insured when there are delinquent property taxes, is not limited to situations where the named insured is also responsible for those taxes. Conneaut Lake Park, in Crawford County, included a historic venue, “the Beach Club,” owned by the Trustees. Restoration operated the Club under contract with the Trustees. Restoration insured the Club against fire loss through Erie. When the Club was destroyed by fire, Restoration submitted a claim. In accordance with 40 Pa. Stat 638, Erie required Restoration to obtain a statement of whether back taxes were owed on the property. The statement showed $478,260.75 in delinquent taxes, dating back to 1996, before Restoration’s contract, and owed on the entire 55.33-acre parcel, not just the single acre that included the Club. Erie notified Restoration that it would transfer to the taxing authorities $478,260.75 of the $611,000 insurance proceeds. Erie’s interpleader action was transferred after the Trustees filed for bankruptcy. Restoration argued that Section 638 applied only to situations where the owner of the property is insured and where the tax liabilities are the financial responsibility of the owner. The Third Circuit reinstated the bankruptcy court holding, rejecting Restoration’s argument. The statute does not include any qualifications. When Restoration insured the Club, its rights to any insurance proceeds were subject to the claim of the taxing authorities. Without a legally cognizable property interest, Restoration has no cognizable takings claim. View "In re: Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs suffered from disabilities, for which each was prescribed an emotional support animal. Each woman obtained a dog. This violated the “no dogs” rule of their condominium association. Plaintiffs each sought an accommodation for an emotional support animal by filing paperwork, with a doctor’s letter prescribing an emotional support animal, and a dog certification. Other residents became upset about the presence of the dogs. The condominium board voted to impose a fine. When a new Board President took office, the Board granted the accommodation requests and waived the accrued fines. Plaintffs filed suit under the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the association denied their reasonable requests for accommodation (42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B)) and interfered with the exercise of their fair housing rights (42 U.S.C. 3617). Plaintiff Walters committed suicide while her case was pending. The district court dismissed Walters’ Fair Housing Act claims entirely due to her death and rejected Kromenhoek’s claims on the merits. The Third Circuit reversed. The survival of claims under the Fair Housing Act is not governed by Section 1988(a), but by federal common law, under which a claim survives the death of a party. There were genuine issues of material fact regarding the merits of the claims. View "Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association" on Justia Law

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Fried bought a home in 2007 for $553,330; an appraisal estimated the home’s value at $570,000. Fried borrowed $497,950 at a fixed interest rate. Because the loan-to-purchase-price ratio was more than 80%, Chase, the servicer for Fried’s mortgage required her to obtain private mortgage insurance. Fried had to pay monthly premiums for that insurance until the ratio reached 78%; projected to happen around March 2016. After the housing market crashed in 2008, Fried had trouble making mortgage payments. Chase modified Fried’s mortgage under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, by reducing the principal balance to $463,737. By reassessing the value of Fried’s home at the time of the modification, Chase extended Fried’s mortgage insurance premiums to 2026. The district court declined to dismiss Fried’s purported class action under the Homeowners Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. 4901. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Act does not permit a servicer to rely on an updated property value, estimated by a broker, to recalculate the length of a homeowner’s mortgage insurance obligation following a modification; the Act requires that the ending of that obligation remain tied to the initial purchase price of the home. View "Fried v. JP Morgan Chase & Co" on Justia Law

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The Township of Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals denied an application by DePolo, a federally licensed amateur or “ham” radio enthusiast, to build a 180-foot radio antenna tower on his property so that he could communicate with other ham radio operators around the world. The property is surrounded by mountains or hills. He claimed a shorter tower would not allow him to reliably communicate with other ham radio operators. The ZHBA agreed to a tower that was 65-feet tall as a reasonable accommodation under the applicable zoning ordinance prohibition on buildings taller than 35 feet. DePolo did not appeal that decision to the Chester Court of Common Pleas as allowed under state law, but filed a federal suit, claiming that zoning ordinance was preempted by 47 C.F.R. 97.15(b), and the closely related FCC declaratory ruling, known as PRB-1. The district court dismissed, finding that the ZHBA had offered a reasonable accommodation and that the zoning ordinance was not preempted by PRB-1. The Third Circuit rejected an appeal. DePolo’s failure to appeal the ZHBA’s determination to state court rendered the decision final, entitled to the same preclusive effect that it would have had in state court. View "Depolo v. Tredyffrin Twp. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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After a foreclosure case, Davis filed various claims against an entity that he calls “Wells Fargo U.S. Bank National Association as Trustee for the Structured Asset Investment Loan Trust, 2005-11” as the purported holder of Davis’s mortgage. Davis also sued Assurant, believing it to be the provider of insurance on his home. His claims arise from damage that occurred to his house after Wells Fargo locked him out of it, which went unrepaired and worsened into severe structural problems. The district court dismissed Davis’s claims against Wells Fargo, on the grounds that claim preclusion and a statute of limitations barred recovery, and claims against Assurant for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court reasoned that Davis lacked standing to bring those claims because he sued the wrong corporate entity, namely Assurant, when he should have sued Assurant’s wholly-owned subsidiary, ASIC. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of Wells Fargo, but vacated as to Assurant. Standing is a jurisdictional predicate, but generally focuses on whether the plaintiff is the right party to bring particular claims, not on whether the plaintiff has sued the right party. View "Davis v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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The apartment building, constructed in 1912, was used first as a factory, before it was abandoned. Goldtex purchased the the building in 2010 and hired KlingStubbins to design a plan to convert the entire building into rental apartment units and retail space. The building was almost gutted for conversion into a residential building with 163 apartment units and ground floor retail space that began accepting tenants in 2013. A housing advocacy group filed suit alleging violation of the design and accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(C). The district court dismissed, citing HUD’s interpretation of the provision—which exempts converted buildings from the accessibility requirements if they were constructed prior to March 13, 1991. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the agency’s interpretation entitled to deference. The interpretations are reasonable and reflect a legitimate policy choice by the agency in administering an ambiguous statute. View "Fair Hous. Rights Ctr. v. Post Goldtex GP LLC" on Justia Law

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Davis and his wife purchased a Philadelphia rental property in 1997 1997. A longtime member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Davis was called to active duty in 2004. A few months later, the Davises transferred the property to Global LLC, owned and managed by Davis, to “insulate themselves from liability” because “his wife was unable to manage the property.” In 2009, Davis and Global asked the Philadelphia Department of Revenue to reduce Global’s property tax debt, citing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. 3901, which limits interest imposed on a servicemember’s delinquent property taxes during active duty to a rate of six percent and forbids additional penalties. The Department denied this request, stating that the SCRA does not apply to a business owned by a servicemember and that Davis should file an abatement petition with the Philadelphia Tax Review Board. The Review Board denied that petition. Two years later the city initiated foreclosure proceedings; the state court entered judgment in the city’s favor. Davis and Global filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. SCRA extends only to servicemembers; a corporation is not a “servicemember” under the statute. View "Davis v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) is a national electronic loan registry system that permits its members to transfer, among themselves, promissory notes associated with mortgages, while MERS remains the mortgagee of record in public records as “nominee” for the note holder and its successors and assigns. MERS facilitates the secondary market for mortgages by permitting members to transfer the right to repayment pursuant to the terms of the promissory note, recording such transfers in the MERS database to notify one another and establish priority, instead of recording such transfers as mortgage assignments in local land recording offices. It permits note holders to avoid recording fees. Recorders of deeds in Pennsylvania counties sued, seeking an injunction, and to recover millions of dollars in unpaid recording fees, contending that the MERS entities violated 21 Pa. Cons. Stat. 351. The Third Circuit rejected the claims, holding that section 351 does not create a duty to record all land conveyances and is so clear that certification to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was unnecessary. The transfers of promissory notes among MERS members do not constitute assignments of the mortgage itself. View "Cnty. of Montgomery Recorder v. MERSCorp Inc" on Justia Law

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Realtor Willis planned Southgate, involving the purchase of 68 acres on St. Croix, re-zoning, subdivision, building infrastructure, and selling individual lots. Willis worked with defendants Cheng and Dubois and their entities (OMEI, Ocean View) for financing, but the defendants did not actually intend to develop the property. Pollara, a 47-year veteran of the construction industry, was hired to create the subdivision’s entrance. Ultimately Cheng and Dubois stopped paying Pollara and locked him out of his site office. Pollara was never paid for repair work to the roadway after flooding. Defendants, standing on both sides of the financing, refused any extension of the financing terms; they withheld their consent to selling the land at a profit to a buyer whom Willis had found. They caused Ocean View to foreclose, acquiring the property free of Willis’s and Pollara’s interests. The jury found that Ocean View and Cheng had made intentional misrepresentations and that OMEI had made negligent misrepresentations and that Dubois had made negligent misrepresentations with respect to the building permit and proposals for the development plan, and intentional misrepresentations as to the other three subjects. The jury awarded Pollara compensatory damages of $391,626 from all of the defendants and punitive damages of $90,000 against Cheng. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Frank C Pollara Grp. LLC v. Ocean View Inv. Holding, LLC" on Justia Law