While abandoned and blighted properties have always been a concern, the harsh economic impact that COVID-19 has had on neighborhoods has exacerbated the conditions surrounding these struggling properties. Prior to the pandemic, there was steady growth with new developments barely being able to keep up with the demand. Now, leasing is down as renters and homeowners are struggling with record high unemployment, reduced income and lost wages, and business owners being forced to close their doors.
Abandoned and blighted properties exist throughout Pennsylvania in both rural and urban areas and in residential and commercial developments. If your property is located adjacent to or even in the vicinity of an abandoned or blighted property, you are right to be concerned about its impact on your property’s value, the costs of hazard insurance, the reduced local tax revenue and safety hazards posed by the neglected property. So what can you do? It may be worth considering the option of petitioning the court to have a conservator appointed.
Abandoned and blighted properties aren’t just an eye sore. These properties pose as a fire risk and often deteriorate to the point that they pose a threat of serious bodily injury to any person who might decide to step foot in the door. The all too familiar culmination of this cycle of abandonment and decay results in the municipality incurring the costs to maintain or demolish the properties.
In 2008, the Blighted and Abandoned Property Conservatorship Act (“Act 135”) was enacted in response to the ongoing issues related to abandoned and dilapidated properties. Act 135 set forth a blight elimination strategy that allowed for citizens, organizations and local governments to request that blighted properties be assigned a “conservator” to step in and take corrective action. A conservator is a party who is given permission from the court to either rehabilitate or demolish a property in order to address the blighted conditions of the structure that the owner has been unwilling or unable to control. The conservatorship process provides a legal way for a third party to enter onto a property and make repairs. When a conservator is appointed, that person becomes the property’s effective owner and once the property is sold, the cost of the conservatorship efforts and property renovations are deducted from the proceeds.
When petitioning the court, one of the key considerations is whether the property has been legally occupied within the previous twelve months. In 2019, the Superior Court in Scioli Turco, Inc. v. Prioleau, 207 A.3d 346 (Pa. Super. 2019), discussed the meaning of “legally occupied” and determined that it meant “occupied in a manner that comports with the law.” Therefore, according to Scioli Turco, Inc., a property is not “legally occupied,” if it is lived in by trespassers and/or if it has been designated unsafe and hazardous according to local code and ordinances.
If there is a blighted or abandoned building in your neighborhood, you have the right to take legal action to mitigate the risk posed to the community and to protect your own interests.