“Tangled Title” references those situations when an individual resides in a home and may treat the home as his or hers but, due to certain circumstances, the deed is recorded in someone else’s name. While there can be a variety of reasons for a title to become tangled, the most common are:
- A relative passes away and no estate was opened to formally transfer the property;
- The owner moves away leaving the property in the hands of the current occupant; or
- parties entered into rent-to-own agreements or land installment contracts which were never finalized with the recording of a deed.
Unfortunately, tangled title issues most often affect low-income families who did not or do not have the means to immediately rectify the situation when it arose. The experienced real estate lawyers of MBM Law may be able to help you research your home’s title, and potentially remedy any errors that may be found. Please contact us to learn more about our legal services.
Homeowners with Tangled Titles
Tangled titles issues deprive individuals and families of the full benefit of owning a home. Without clear ownership, occupants cannot tap into the home’s value, which in many cases is a family’s primary source of accumulated wealth.
The failure or inability to record a deed in occupants’ names can create problems and put the occupants at risk of losing the property. The occupant may not be able to obtain a mortgage or homeowners insurance. Deed theft is also possible; deed theft occurs when someone puts the title of property into their name or the name of another without the knowledge or consent of the occupants currently residing there.
Even more concerning, as many of these occupants are of limited means, they will be unable to obtain mortgage or utility assistance, nonprofit repair services; grants or loans for property improvements which can result in the properties falling into disrepair and creating health hazards for the occupants and the public at large. Along with the inability to obtain assistance, individuals without a deed are unable to sell these properties to take advantage of increased housing prices and the potential opportunity of an economic bonus.
How Common are Tangled Titles?
Tangled titles, also referred to as “heirs’ property” are more prevalent than realized. If an individual is paying the mortgage, taxes and keeping up with repairs, there is typically no trigger which alerts anyone to the potential problem of a tangled title. This cycle, especially in a family home, can go on for generations. A tangled title is most often discovered only when the occupants encounter financial trouble. It is suggested there are over 4,000 tangled title properties in Allegheny County and the tangled title in Philadelphia is approximately 10,000 properties.
Solutions for Fixing a Tangled Title
How can tangled titles be corrected in Pennsylvania? If the situation involves a deceased relative, it can be as simple as opening an estate with the County Register of Wills. It is usually a family member who opens the estate and if all other family members involved cooperate, it can be an easy process.
An individual can also have title determined by the Ophan’s Court pursuant to Section 3546 of the Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries Consolidated Statutes, 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3546 . Section 3546 permits an individual claiming an interest in real property, as or through an heir, of a decedent, to petition the court to terminate the interests of any heirs or devisees of a decedent and the petitioning individual can be given title to the real property.
While there are notice requirements, the main requirement is that no letters testamentary or of administration have been granted and one year has passed since the decedent’s death or a personal representative has been appointed but no account has been filed within six years of the date of decedent’s death. If the petition is granted, the Recorder of Deeds can be directed to execute a deed on behalf of the decedent and record it without the payment of transfer taxes.
Finally, an individual can file a quiet title action. A quiet title action is a lawsuit filed in the court of common pleas against another person or entity to settle disputes over title to property. The final determination ‘quiets’ conflicting claims by eliminating all disagreements and/or uncertainties and clarifying legal ownership.
Pennsylvania Real Estate Lawyers: Untangling Tangled Titles
As demand for housing continues to rise and affordable housing becomes a premium, resolving tangled title issues as soon as possible benefits occupants and the community at large. If you have concerns that your home may be a tangled title property, contact the real estate attorneys at Maiello, Brungo & Maiello, LLP for assistance.