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Thread: Finding Mr. Smith (easement headaches)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Finding Mr. Smith (easement headaches)

    I bought a shell back in March with the intention of rehabbing it and adding another room onto the back. It turned out that it was cheaper to knock it down and start over. Fine.

    It's a typical worker's rowhouse that is down every narrow side street of South Philadelphia. Two floors and a basement. Two bedrooms and a bathroom. Just under 800 sq. ft. The house is in the middle of the block but the three houses to the north of it were destroyed in a fire years ago and were subsequently demolished.

    The lot is 15x50 which is average by South Philly standards. We're allowed to cover 15x40 of the lot and go up to 35ft. In working with the architect we learned early on that we'd need all the space we could get. Since we planned on going with the three floors it was easier and cheaper to just block up right next to the party wall to our south rather than trying to build on top of it. We lose a foot there.
    We lose a foot to the block for the north wall of the house. We're down to 13 ft. of living space. Throw in the staircase and we lose another 3 ft. 10 ft. is a mighty narrow dining room but it's doable with a bit of creativity.

    Now comes the easement. When the neighbors house was standing there was a two foot wide alley between the two houses. It was 8ft. tall and the second floor of both houses were cantilevered over one foot to meet at the property line. Anyway, this alley is basically just big enough to bring a garabage can from the back yard to the street without dragging it through your house. It's too narrow for bicycle handlebars - which makes it useless for me. Of course, I can't build on my half of the easement without my neighbors permission. The easement has to be vacated before i can build and I have to pay $500 for the "vacation."

    The owner of the property is a certain Thomas Smith who took posession of the property in 1952. He paid $1 for it - which is another way of saying he inherited it. His address is listed as 1591 Meldon Ave. Donora, PA. Donora is about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and the street address, if it existed, would be somewhere in the middle of a large park. In the meantime someone has been quietly paying the property taxes on it.

    In the one year + since I signed the sales agreement the neighborhood has exploded and neighborhing lots are selling for triple and quadruple what i paid. On the other hand i've invested a lot of energy into the process and was looking fwd. to having a house built to my own specs.

    Before I get on the phone with the realtor and consider it a lesson learned does anyone have any advice for finding this guy (if he's still alive). If I do find him he doesn't have to agree - do i have any recourse?
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    The tax rolls should have an accurate address to mail the bill to. It can be hard to track down absentee owners, but it can be done. I did it often when I was in the cell tower biz. As for the easement, was it a reciprocal easement between your property and the neighboring property, or was it granted to a third party? Third party might be easier. If I were the property owner I would have no problem with it, but I would want you to pay for walling up the one foot gap left behind when you build.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ludes98
    As for the easement, was it a reciprocal easement between your property and the neighboring property, or was it granted to a third party? Third party might be easier. If I were the property owner I would have no problem with it, but I would want you to pay for walling up the one foot gap left behind when you build.
    All the tax info here is public and available online. I sent a letter to his "current" address as well as to the address of the property here in Philly. We'll see what happens.

    The easement is reciprocal. The last paragraph is the same on both of our deeds and spells out the width and height and that the area is common unless and until it's absolved by both parties. So unless i find this guy or his heirs there's nothing i can do.

    I'd be more than happy to pay for any costs he might incur but his house burned to the ground years ago. The city probably filled in his basement with the debris and fill dirt. His property is nothing but rocks and weeds so there wouldn't be any gap - just my wall up to the property line and his empty lot. If he, or anyone else decided to build there they would also be permitted to build up to the property line once the easment is vacated.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Here, if you can't find the property owner, and have made every reasonable attempt(title search, tax roll, public notice in newspaper) you can apply to the court to have an easement or covenant removed. Might be an option?
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Here, if you can't find the property owner, and have made every reasonable attempt(title search, tax roll, public notice in newspaper) you can apply to the court to have an easement or covenant removed. Might be an option?
    thanks. i'll check this out. sounds like my best bet.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    The website was updated today. Thank my lucky stars.
    It was bought at a sherrif's sale by some small time family realtors about 4 blocks from me. I just talked with them and they were offering to sell it to me.

    http://brtweb.phila.gov/accountDetai...?an=2376001022
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jresta
    The website was updated today. Thank my lucky stars.
    It was bought at a sherrif's sale by some small time family realtors about 4 blocks from me. I just talked with them and they were offering to sell it to me.

    http://brtweb.phila.gov/accountDetai...?an=2376001022
    So are you buying? Now you can get a 28' wide house.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I think donk has it right on the money.

  9. #9

    Registered
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    Unless PA is very unusual there will be "curative" act you can take advantage of after having made the appropriate attempts to contact the owner. Unfortunately it will cost you some legal fees.

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