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Zwick Law Develops New Pennsylvania Adverse Possession Law in Weible v. Wells, 156 A.3d 1220

By decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Matthew R. Zwick, founding partner of Zwick Law, representing Elizabeth “Louise” Wells and her late husband, William Wells, prevailed on appeal, reversing the trial court’s decision regarding the application of the adverse possession doctrine in Pennsylvania.  The Weible v. Wells decision (reported at 156 A.3d 1220) establishes and creates clear legal principles and guidelines for applying the doctrine of adverse possession in Pennsylvania.

In this case, the Superior Court was tasked with deciding whether the statutorily prescribed period to adversely possess land in Pennsylvania is tolled (paused) or started anew (reset) when property is owned and used for a public purpose by political subdivisions (i.e., counties, townships, boroughs, etc.) during the 21-year statute of limitations for the title owner of the land to file an ejectment action against the adverse possessor.  The Superior Court, agreeing fully with Attorney Zwick, held that the 21-year statutory period was merely tolled, and did not completely reset, under the circumstances presented in this case.

Case Background

This civil case was commenced by Rodger Weible, Louise’s next door neighbor, in August 2009, when Weible filed a complaint in ejectment against Louise and her husband, arguing that the Wellses installed landscaping and a driveway that allegedly encroached upon a portion of Weible’s yard.

Louise and her husband purchased their home in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, in August 1965. Thereafter, the Wellses caused landscaping and a driveway to be installed at their residence in 1974 and 1979, respectively.  The Wellses’ landscaping and driveway remained in substantially the same condition and configuration from the respective dates of installation through the time of trial in September 2015 (and as of the date of this article).

From May 30, 1995 through December 22, 1998, the property now owned by Weible was owned by Jefferson County and Clearfield County, political subdivisions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, operating through the Clearfield-Jefferson Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program.  Weible purchased the property from Jefferson and Clearfield Counties by deed dated December 22, 1998.

The Wellses and Weible lived next to each other without incident until 2008.  In 2008, a tree fell and caused damage to powerlines surrounding the residential lots.  Louise and her husband offered to pay the Borough of Reynoldsville to repair the powerlines; however, they were informed that the fallen tree had come from Weible’s property and that they were not responsible for the cost of repairs.  After the Borough attempted to collect payment from Weible for the damage, Weible hired a local surveyor to survey his property to delineate the boundary line between his lot and the lot owned by the Wellses.  When Weible discovered that the Wellses’ landscaping and driveway appeared to encroach upon property that he believed he owned, Weible requested that the Wellses remove the landscaping.  The instant legal battle ensued.

The Trial Court Proceedings

Weible’s civil complaint was intended to eject, or remove, the Wellses and their landscaping and driveway from the disputed property.  The Wellses raised the defense of adverse possession and countersued Weible asserting ownership of the property in question by virtue of adverse possession.  After a non-jury trial on September 11, 2015, the trial court of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, found that, because Weible had received his residential lot from a political subdivision (i.e., Jefferson and Clearfield Counties), the Wellses were required to establish their exclusive, adverse possession of the property for 21 years from the date of conveyance from the Counties to Weible in 1998.

As twenty-one (21) years had not passed when Weible filed suit against the Wellses in 2009, the trial court ordered the Wellses to be ejected from the property.  Louise Wells, represented by Zwick Law, appealed this decision by the lower court.

What is Adverse Possession?

The doctrine of adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a trespasser – sometimes a stranger, but more often a neighbor – to gain legal title over land that was once owned by someone else.  The doctrine has developed as a way to achieve a fair result when a land owner has neglected or forgotten about a piece or portion of land, while another has been in possession of and using the land for an extended period of time, such that forcing that person, i.e., the adverse possessor, to depart or vacate the land would create hardship and/or inequity.

Adverse possession in Pennsylvania is established based on the character of a trespasser’s possession and the length of time he possesses the land in question. Under Pennsylvania law, to sustain a claim for title to real property through adverse possession, a litigant must prove her actual, continuous, open, notorious, exclusive, distinct, hostile, and adverse possession of the property in dispute for a period in excess of twenty-one (21) years.

Adverse Possession

While actions in ejectment are commonly employed by the rightful owner of land to recover property from those who have unauthorized possession of the disputed land, the rightful owner must commence an action in ejection within 21 years from the initial date of the unauthorized use.

The Superior Court Appeal

On appeal, Attorney Zwick successfully briefed and argued that Louise and her husband had adversely possessed and exclusively used the disputed property for 21 continuous years without actual interruption by Weible or any of his predecessors-in-interest.  Upon review and oral argument, the Superior Court agreed and reversed the trial court’s decision, ruling that, although the disputed property had been owned by the Counties from 1995 through 1998, during which time the Counties would have been immune from claims of adverse possession themselves, the 21-year statutory period was merely tolled (or paused), rather than reset due to the Counties’ ownership.  The statutory clock began to run again once the disputed property returned to Weible’s private ownership.

Newly Established Law on Adverse Possession

Thus, because the landscaping and driveway that were installed by Louise and her husband in the mid- to late-1970s remained in the same place and configuration through the date of trial in 2015, the Wellses “adversely” possessed the disputed property for well over 21 years.  The Superior Court, therefore, reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for entry of an order vesting ownership of the disputed property in Louise Wells by virtue of adverse possession.

On behalf of its client, Zwick Law clarified and developed new adverse possession case law in Pennsylvania.  This case illustrates how important it is to have aggressive attorneys fighting for you.  The skilled litigation attorneys at Zwick Law are dedicated to preserving the legal rights of our clients. For a free consultation and case analysis, contact either our DuBois or Brookville office today.  At Zwick Law, we are always here for you.

Top Three Reasons Real Estate Deals Fall Through

Once real estate is under contract, many buyers and sellers make the mistake of assuming that the hard part is over.  In reality, however, that’s when the work begins — and, unfortunately, real estate deals can fall through during the contract phase.  When this happens, it leaves all parties stunned, as they are forced to start over the entire buying or selling process. While having a real estate deal unravel is stressful, it is not all that uncommon. Thus, by being aware of the main reasons that real estate deals fall through, you can prepare accordingly to avoid your real estate deal from failing before settlement.

Real Estate Title Problems

An issue with the title to a property can quickly derail a purchase, which leaves all parties dissatisfied and upset. Often times, title defects are not found until a title abstract is completed — which usually occurs shortly before closing. When this happens, buyers and sellers alike have little time to react. Finding out that a property has a judgment or lien against it, in most cases, will lead the lender to deny the buyer a loan until the title issue is resolved. And, depending upon the situation, it could take months or longer for the title issue to get resolved.  In some instances, a lawsuit, known as a quiet title action, is required to “clear” a cloud on the title to property.  A quiet title action, while unavoidable in some cases, can take time and cost money that no one anticipated.

Loan Denial

After being “prequalified” for a loan, many buyers assume that they will experience nothing but clear sailing going forward. Unfortunately, a preapproval does not mean that the lender cannot change its mind. If the buyer’s credit score drops between the preapproval and closing, then the bank may refuse to finance the purchase entirely — or, in other cases, will not approve the entire amount needed to complete the sale. Occasionally the buyer may pay the difference with cash, but if he or she is unable or unwilling to do this, then the entire transaction may fail.

Real Estate Inspection Problems

A property that looks wonderful on the outside may have a multitude of problems on the inside.  Issues such as leaks, damaged roofs, moldy basements, and more, are usually revealed during a detailed home inspection completed by a professional.  While some problems are easy to resolve, expensive repairs may make the buyer have second thoughts about the entire purchase. If a buyer is getting cold feet about the transaction in general, then even a minor cosmetic or appliance issue could turn into a major point of contention. If a seller is unwilling to make repairs or offer a credit, then the entire sale may come to a halt.

Getting the Legal Advice You Deserve – Contact Zwick Law

If you or someone close to you has recently experienced problems with buying or selling a property, consulting a real estate attorney can help you determine how to proceed. The attorneys and Real Estate Settlement Division at Zwick Law understand how stressful real estate transactions can be, and we are able to guide you through each stage of the process while providing you with the legal advice you deserve. With offices conveniently located in DuBois and Brookville, Pennsylvania, we are available to provide you with a private consultation to discuss your situation and individual needs.[1]


[1] Disclaimer: The use of the Internet, Facebook and/or any other form of social media communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.  Time-sensitive information should be directed immediately to the office of Zwick Law at (814) 371-6400.

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HOW TO PROPERLY HANDLE A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM

The period immediately following an accident resulting in an injury is very stressful and often times overwhelming.  Lost wages, mounting medical debt, and the pain of an injury often combine, leaving a person desperate to find a resolution to an unfortunate situation.  While quickly settling an injury claim may seem like the easiest way to resolve problems caused by an accident, being overly eager to reach a quick settlement can leave an accident victim in an even worse predicament and with additional problems.  Being aware of the steps to properly and effectively handle an injury claim can increase your chances of avoiding crucial mistakes, while helping you obtain the compensation you deserve.

Should you automatically comply with all of the insurance claims adjuster’s requests?

The adjuster handling your claim usually presents himself as a friend or ally who is looking out for you and your best interests.  During the initial investigation of your claim, the claims adjuster will make various requests, such as asking you to sign authorizations for the release of confidential medical and employment information; asking you to provide recorded statements; and asking for other documentation related to your accident and injuries (e.g., videos, pictures, witness information, etc.).  Although adjusters will advise you that the requested information is always required to assess and/or to settle your claims, often times that is not completely true.

The claims adjuster will attempt to use the information that you provide to find ways to minimize or dismiss your claim.  In certain situations, you may need to provide some information and cooperate with the insurer’s investigation; however, this is not always required – selectively and strategically providing information does not mean that you will lose your claim.  Instead, taking a strategic and methodical approach usually increases your chances of walking away with all the compensation you deserve.

What happens if you miss medical appointments?

A person with no medical insurance or limited sick time from work may decide to stop going to follow-up doctor appointments before he is fully recovered and/or the treating physicians have officially released him from treatment.  Fear of lost wages and large medical bills can lead to a premature return to work, which can seriously impact your claim.  The medical appointments that you attend will further illustrate the extent of your injuries, and will establish a medical treatment pattern that shows the potential need for long-term care.  Missing scheduled and necessary medical appointments will likely lead to your claims adjuster dismissing or diminishing the severity of your injuries, which will significantly reduce the value and settlement of your case.

Should you question or challenge an adjuster’s valuation of your claim?

Claims adjusters working directly with an injured party may arbitrarily deny a claim without reviewing or receiving relevant claim-related documentation.  If, and when, this happens, too many people simply give up on the claim and do not pursue the compensation they deserve.  A person with little or no experience handling a personal injury, workers’ compensation, or medical malpractice claim will not know what steps to take to challenge or appeal the decision.  Insurance companies are experienced and manipulative, and they expect that accident victims will walk away from valid (and valuable) claims—saving the insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do not stand alone – Zwick Law is here for you.

Even the most straightforward injury claim can quickly devolve into a nightmare, if not properly handled from the very early stages.  Remember, claims adjusters have years of experience negotiating claims, while the average person only deals with one or two injury claims in a lifetime.  The experienced personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at Zwick Law understand how vital quality representation is to your claim.  We are prepared to review your situation and take over the time-consuming and stressful task of negotiating with the insurance company.

For questions relating to an injury claim, contact Matthew R Zwick, partner of Zwick Law, at (814) 371-6400 or mrz@zwick-law.com, to schedule a legal consultation and free case analysis.  At Zwick Law, we’re always here for you.[1]

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[1] Disclaimer: The use of the Internet, Facebook and/or any other form of social media communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.  Time-sensitive information should be directed immediately to the office of Zwick Law at (814) 371-6400.

 

Relief In Sight For Home Buyers With Student Loan Debt

Student Loan Debt

The rules regarding treatment of student-loan debt in calculating loan-to-debt ratios have undergone significant changes.  These rule changes, implemented by mortgage investor, Fannie Mae, will have the effect of easing the scrutiny of new home buyers’ creditworthiness.

Of the rule changes, here are two that could benefit you, if you have student loan debt:

  1. If you participate in a reduced payment plan to pay your student loan debt, then your actual monthly payments, as reported to the credit bureaus, will count toward your income-to-debt ratio calculation. For example, if your original monthly payment was $500 a month, but it has been reduced to $100 through an “income-based repayment” plan, then only the $100 will be added to your monthly debts to calculate your income-to-debt ratio.  Under previous rules, lenders were required to use a factor of 1% of your student loan balance as your monthly payment, even though you were only paying a fraction of that amount.  As a result, many borrower’s income-to-debt ratios were pushed beyond most mortgage lender’s underwriting limits.  This prohibited many potential new home buyers from purchasing their first home.  By using the actual monthly payment of student loan debt, many more first-time home buyers will qualify for a mortgage.
  2. If you have nonmortgage debts that are being paid by someone else – for example, let’s say your parents pay your monthly credit card balances – these nonmortgage debts no longer will be included in your income-to-debt ratio calculation, provided that the payments have been made steadily for 12 months or more by someone other than you. This rule change should improve the debt ratios of young buyers who are getting a little help on their cash flows from their parents.

Zwick Law’s Real Estate Settlement Division is directed by Carl A. Lias, a Pennsylvania Licensed Title Insurance Agent since 1999, who has over 18 years of experience in residential and commercial real estate transactions, including refinance transactions, as well as extensive knowledge of conventional, FHA, VA, USDA and PHFA mortgage loan products.  Zwick Law is dedicated to providing clients in DuBois, Treasure Lake, Brookville, and surrounding areas across Western Pennsylvania with experienced, fast, professional and friendly real estate settlement services, at a cost that is typically more affordable than non-lawyer, real estate title companies.

Contact Zwick Law’s office to discuss your residential or commercial real estate matters.  To schedule an appointment, contact the Real Estate Settlement Division at (814) 371-6400, by e-mail at realestate@zwick-law.com, or via our Contact Page.