Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717f(h) gives natural gas companies that hold certificates of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the power of eminent domain but does not provide for “quick take” to permit immediate possession. Transcontinental is building a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and needed rights of way. Transcontinental met the requirements of section 717f(h). The administrative review leading up to the certificate of public convenience and necessity lasted almost three years and included extensive outreach and public participation and an Environmental Impact Statement. Transcontinental extended written offers of compensation exceeding $3000 to each Landowner, but these offers were not accepted. The Landowners had all participated in the FERC administrative process. Transcontinental, planning to begin construction in fall 2017, filed condemnation suits The district court granted Transcontinental summary judgment, effectively giving it immediate possession, concluding that the Landowners had received “adequate due process.” The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that granting immediate possession violated the separation of powers because eminent domain is a legislative power and the NGA did not grant “quick take.” Transcontinental properly obtained the substantive right to the property by following the statutory requirements, which are not similar to “quick take” procedures, before seeking equitable relief to obtain possession. View "Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Permanent Easements for 2.14 Acres" on Justia Law

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In 2007, the Site, in Trainer Borough, was owned by SCT, and used for making corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and oil additives. SCT kept flammable, corrosive, and combustible chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) determined that “there is a release or threat of release of hazardous substances or contaminants, which presents a substantial danger to human health or the environment. The federal EPA initiated removal actions. SCT could not afford the cleanup expenses, including electricity to power pollution control and security equipment, The power company was going to shut off the Site's electricity, so PADEP assumed responsibility for the bills. Delaware County forced a tax sale. Buyers purchased the Site for $20,000; the purchase agreement stated that the Site had ongoing environmental issues and remediation. Trainer Custom Chemical took title in October 2012. The EPA and PADEP completed their removal actions in December 2012. PADEP had incurred more than $818,000 in costs. The buyers had demolished many of the Site’s structures; reclaimed salvageable materials were sold for $875,000. In 2014, PADEP received reports indicating that hazards still existed at the Site; its buildings had asbestos-containing materials. PADEP sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-28, and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), to recover cleanup costs. The Third Circuit held that the Buyer is liable for environmental cleanup costs incurred at the Site both before and after the Buyer acquired it. View "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1910-1986, Greenlease owned the Greenville Pennsylvania site and operated railcar manufacturing facilities there. Trinity acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. A state investigation of Trinity’s waste-disposal activities resulted in criminal prosecution and, eventually, a plea-bargained consent decree, requiring that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. The district court held that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601 (CERCLA), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, Trinity is entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. After eight years of litigation, and having sorted through a century of historical records, the court allocated 62% of the total cleanup costs to Greenlease and the remainder to Trinity. The Third Circuit affirmed pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions but vacated the cost allocation determination. The agreement between Trinity and Greenlease did not shift liability away from Greenlease after a three-year contractual indemnification period expired. Trinity’s response costs were necessary and reasonable. The court’s methodology, however, failed to differentiate between different remediation activities and their varied costs, and, as applied, treated data measured in square feet as equivalent to data measured in cubic yards. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co" on Justia Law

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Vorchheimer suffers from pulmonary hypertension and other disabilities and must use a rolling walker to get around. She owned a condominium in The Philadelphian and had a reserved parking space in front of the building. Vorchheimer used her walker to get from her condo to the lobby and then used her cane from the lobby to her car. She could neither lift her walker, nor fold it, nor put it into her car, so she began leaving her walker in the lobby. The building managers refused to allow her to continue to do so, but offered her alternatives that involved having staff members take and store the walker or storing the walker in the building’s indoor garage. She sued under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f), claiming that her preferred accommodation was necessary to equally enjoy her home. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her complaint, holding that she had not plausibly pleaded necessity. For a housing accommodation to be “necessary” under the Act, it must be required for that person to achieve equal housing opportunity, taking into account available alternatives. Leaving the walker in the lobby was her preference but given the four alternatives offered she did not plausibly plead that it was necessary. View "Vorchheimer v. Philadelphian Owners Association" on Justia Law

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The Hayes family is a low-income family whose rent is subsidized by enhanced voucher assistance under the Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 1437f(t) (Section 8). Enhanced vouchers exist to enable residents to “choose” to continue renting the “dwelling unit in which they currently reside.”because an ordinary voucher does not cover a tenant’s rent to the extent that it exceeds the applicable payment standard, and, following a valid opt-out, property owners are no longer subject to limitations on what they may charge for rent. The Hayes family's eligibility to receive enhanced vouchers is contingent upon their continued tenancy in a unit currently owned by Harvey. Harvey notified the Hayes family that he would not renew their lease. The Hayes family refused to vacate, arguing that as enhanced-voucher tenants, they have an enforceable “right to remain” in their unit as long as it is offered for rental housing. The district court granted Harvey summary judgment. The Third Circuit initially affirmed. On rehearing, the Third Circuit reversed. The statute’s plain language and history indicate that enhanced voucher holders may not be evicted absent good cause, even at the end of a lease term. The court remanded so that the district court may consider whether Harvey has good cause to evict. View "Hayes v. Harvey" on Justia Law

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A Pennsylvania municipal lien is automatic; it is perfected by filing with the local court, without notice or a hearing, where it is publicly docketed. Until filed, a municipal lien may not be enforced through a judicial sale. Municipalities can delay filing a lien indefinitely, but it is not enforceable against subsequent purchasers until filed. A municipality can petition the court for a sale. Property owners may request a hearing on the legality of a lien at any time by paying the underlying claim into the court with a petition. PGW, a public utility owned by the city, scans its billing database, identifies delinquent accounts, then sends a pre-filing letter. If full payment is not made, the system automatically files the lien and sends another notice. Landlords are not normally apprised of tenants' growing arrearages. An exception is entered if the name/address associated with an account does not match the property tax records. PGW frequently enters “exceptions,” which do not prevent arrearages from continuing to grow nor do they interrupt service but prevent the lien from being filed. Landlords who learned of thousands of dollars of liens against their properties, due to nonpayment by tenants, filed suit. The court certified a class and held that the City had violated the landlords’ due process rights. The Third Circuit reversed. Whether the lien procedures comport with due process depends on three factors: the private interest that will be affected; the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the value of other procedural safeguards in avoiding errors; and the governmental interest. Although the filing of a lien is “significant” enough to trigger due process protections, it is a relatively limited interference with the landlords’ property. None of the plaintiffs have suffered injury to their credit. Nor have the liens interfered with their ability to maintain their properties or collect rents. Risks associated with an erroneous lien are mitigated by the statute's post-deprivation remedies. View "Augustin v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The Hayes family is a low-income family whose rent is subsidized by enhanced voucher assistance under the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. 1437f(t) (Section 8). Because an ordinary voucher does not cover a tenant’s rent to the extent that it exceeds the applicable payment standard, and, following a valid opt-out, property owners are no longer subject to limitations on what they may charge for rent, enhanced vouchers exist to enable residents to “choose” to continue renting the “dwelling unit in which they currently reside.” The Hayes family's eligibility to receive enhanced vouchers is contingent upon their continued tenancy in a unit currently owned by Harvey. Toward the end of their most recent lease term, Harvey notified the Hayes family that he would not renew their lease. The Hayes family refused to vacate the premises, arguing that as enhanced-voucher tenants, they have an enforceable “right to remain” in their unit as long as it is offered for rental housing. The district court granted Harvey summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Act does not obligate property owners to renew enhanced-voucher tenancies after the initial lease term. View "Hayes v. Harvey" on Justia Law

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As unclaimed property has become Delaware’s third-largest source of revenue, companies have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s escheat regime. Plains All American Pipeline attacked the constitutionality of several provisions of the Delaware Escheats Law, which provides that a holder of “property presumed abandoned” must file a yearly report with the State Escheator in which it provides information about the property and its possible owner (Del. Code tit. 12, sects. 1142, 1143) and Delaware’s demand that it submit to an abandoned property audit. Because Plains brought suit before Delaware assessed liability based on its audit or sought a subpoena to make its audit-related document requests enforceable, the district court dismissed the suit, finding that the claims were unripe except for an equal protection claim that it dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Third Circuit reversed in part, finding an as-applied, procedural due process claim ripe, but otherwise affirmed. To establish a due process violation, all Plains must show is that it was required to submit a dispute to a self-interested party. No further factual development is needed to address the merits of the claim. View "Plains All American Pipeline LLP v. Cook" on Justia 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