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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Taking abandoned properties

Well, not quite "taking." I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not sure what you would call it.

The borough is considering trying out a new Pennsylvania law that would allow it to ask a court to put control of blighted properties into the hands of parties capable of fixing them up. The law is nicknamed the "Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act," and it passed last year.

This is interesting, because it has echoes of eminent domain. Once again, since I'm not a lawyer, I'm not sure how strong these echoes are. If you are a lawyer and are interested in sharing with me your views on the law, please send me an e-mail []. I'm highly interested in this issue.

To read the law, click here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a resident and an environmental consultant, I think it is better to sieze blighted properties and fix them up. When I drive through a town where there are deserted buildings falling down, that totally taints my view of the town. Also, the liabilities related to falling-down buildings include increased risk of fire (which may damage adjacent properties), rats, and trespassing and potential injuries. As I read the law, the previous owners would be compensated, so they wouldn't be losing anything but a dilapidated property that they are paying taxes on.

June 15, 2009 7:57 AM 
Blogger John V. Petersen said...

These two concepts are quite different. Eminent Domain is about taking private property for a public use for just compensation. The key concept in an eminent domain case is vesting title with the government. The two key questions are just what is a "public use" and just what is "just compensation." What qualifies as a public use is fairly broad thanks to the Kelo Decision (

HB 2188 is more about taking a creative approach to the issue of abandoned properties and/or properties that fail to comply with municipal codes. Instead of taking title, the courts appoint a conservator to make sure the improvements are made - as opposed to fining the owners. I believe title still rests with the owner. But - under circumstances set forth in HB 2188, the conservator can sell the property if the owner fails to petition the conservator to re-take control of the property. Clearly, a condition to successfully petition would involve making the conservator whole on the cost to bring the property back to being within applicable codes. Unlike eminent domain cases, which can take years to resolve, it would appear HB 2188 is about fast tracking redevelopment for a public good - all without running afoul of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. This probably passes constitutional scrutiny because it falls under the regulatory power of a municipality and there are a number of procedural safeguards in place to protect property rights. Municipalities have a legitimate interest in making sure buildings are up to code - especially when their condition presents a risk to public welfare. And it can certainly be argued that if owners neglect those concerns, they have forfeited most, if not all, of their property rights. All that was missing was a law on the books. It may prove to be a very good idea.

June 17, 2009 4:13 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is defining "dilapidated." These things "seem" obvious, until some councilman, his buddy or otherwise connected person or investor/retail interest wants a property to expand his house/business/put up a retail center/whathaveyou.

Its tough for the council, looking at maybe hundreds of thousands in tax revenue, NOT to decide that a humble little house that maybe needs a little TLC on the outside is "dilapidated."

Or that the empty lot where you plan on building your dream business or home is "dilapidated."

All the compensation in the world won't erase the feelings of having the government take your perfectly good home from you to put up a Wal-Mart.

June 23, 2009 9:02 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I left a comment on a different page, I personally feel that someone is greasing someones palms here. Secondly, anyone can put their property on the market in as is condition and the price can reflect that. The fact is that we live in a Communist free Country and the government making laws so they can seize properties doesn't make sense to me. This is not Emient Domain, and therefore the government has no right to seize a property. Something just doesn't add up here. I would be filing a lawsuit against those in government positions who are belitting me in an emotional way on the way I live. We have the right under our Constitution, to live. This could be a number of things. I was in West Chester today and I didn't see any delapitated buildings, or buildings falling down. If anything the boro has no right to take over a persons property nor post its addresses in the News paper. They should have sent letters of concern privately to the owners not publish it in the paper. West Chester needs to unite not tear down and if anything they should fix their sidewalks. I am just appauld with the leadership in West Chester today, it just isn't right.

June 24, 2009 8:13 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is aload of crock. I read through some of the laws and they are absolutely wrong. It stated that you have to have the property licensed with a Realtor and have it in a Multiple Listing service. Sounds like some Realtors are off the wall and if the Law Makers agree to this they are very much confused. The Law states you as a property owner have the right to sell your own property. Then this crock in bull law that some half wit made up states that it has to be advertised every week. If that isn't strong arming someone into listing with a Realtor. This has some ill will behind it. I have the right to sell my property and put a sign out by LAW as a property owner. West Chester Boro is looking to be sued. Then it states about Industrial property, are kidding me. Industrial properties are zone in Industrial plots. Residential in residential and Commercial in Commercial. Who are you people. Get a life you can't do this and if you do you can be sued. This is not Emient Domain. Emient Domain is when the Government takes over your property to put in a highway, or to expand a road. You then are compensate Fair Market Value. This crock in bull law also states that the persons doing the work to fix up the property can put a lien on the property. They are putting the lien on the property because they want to recoup their investment.
Sounds like to me that the Building industry is slow so someone made up this convoluting law to take monies from the owners.
The Boro should notify the Owner if the property is deteriorating and then express concern if it is a hazard. The property owner can sell it below appraised value, so it will sell. We aren't getting the prices we got four years ago.
But for someone to come in and seize the property then put a lien on the property to recoup their monies because they got the contract job to do the work is alot of crap. I see exactly where this is going. Looks like a white collar crime amidst all this paper work.

June 25, 2009 9:50 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This law is unlawful.
You can't seize properties,fix them up with coherced consent and then put a lien on the property. Then sell the property and recoup your benefit. Its white collar extortion.

June 27, 2009 3:33 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blight by definition is subjective. A block in Ardmore was declared blighted so greedy pols could exercise eminent domain. The block is still not blighted, but the description is still legally applied.

If something is really blighted that is one thing, but blight is too left often to interpretation.

Now if this is truly done to take care of truly abandoned propeties about to be crack houses I don't have a problem. But if the blight thing is used for more nefarious purposes, well then?

August 2, 2009 9:55 PM 

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