A festive crew from Russell, Krafft & Gruber participated in the Junior League’s Run4Luck Fundraiser on Saturday morning. The dismal forecast of wind and snow showers did not deter the crowd, who showed up to support a worthy cause and participate in the St. Patrick’s themed 5K, 2-mile walk, and a kids’ fun run. There were a few surprise appearances, including the Barnstormers’ Cylo, a unicorn, a runner dressed as Spiderman, and many leprechauns. RKG’s team, Keep Calm & Leprechaun, was proud to receive top honors as the best-dressed team. 

Thank you to the Junior League for hosting, and kudos to Laura McGarry for organizing such a fun event for our community. We can’t wait to gather an even larger team for next year. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!   

Since COVID has changed the way that we live and work, I have seen a handful of legal issues come up over and over. This blog series addresses some of these issues. The first article in this series talked about what happens when your adult child moves in and will not leave. Another scenario that has come up a lot since COVID began happens when two unmarried people buy a house together, but then split up, leaving them with a house to deal with. This becomes even more complicated when one of their parents pays for the house or provides money for a down payment.

A Deed is Not a Wedding Ring

Maybe it is because the rental market is so tight and expensive and couples do not want to pay for two rents. Or maybe it is because the housing market is so tight that someone finds a house and feels like they cannot pass up an opportunity to buy. Or maybe so much time apart has made people rush into living together. For whatever reason, we have seen an increase in the situation where two people buy a house together and then break up. When the two people are married, the laws of divorce and equitable distribution take care of what happens to the real estate when they break up. But when the parties aren’t married, the same laws don’t apply. The couple has to decide what to do with the house. Either both people want to sell the house, or – more often – one person wants to stay in the house and the other wants to move on.

Legal Status of Non-Married Co-Owners of Real Estate

When two people who are not married purchase real estate together – that means both names are on the deed – they are called either “Joint Tenants” or “Tenants in Common.” Most of the problems that come up in this situation are the same regardless of the type of legal ownership. So for the purpose of this article, we will just call the two people “co-owners.”

When both co-owners want to sell the house, they both have to cooperate with signing agreements with realtors and signing settlement sheets and the deeds.

When only one person wants to sell the house, they can file a “partition action.” That is a lawsuit where the co-owner who wants to sell forces the property to be put up for sale. They can do this even if the other half of the couple wants to remain in the house.

Regardless of whether the sale is voluntary or is forced through a partition action, the general rule is that both co-owners share in whatever equity they have in the house.

Common Mistakes: Unequal Contributions

One of the most frequent problems that we see is where one co-owner puts more money into the house than the other. This happens when one person pays the downpayment and closing costs. Or when the parents of one of the couple pays the down payment or even buys the house completely. If they agree to sell the house and move on, the general rule is that they split the proceeds evenly. Obviously, this is not fair if one person contributed more than the other.

We also see two variations of this problem. The first is when the couple (remember, freshly broken up) cannot agree on their contributions. One person paid closing costs, but the other paid for the new roof or paid the mortgage. The second variation is when one person moves out and the other continues to live in the house. If they are sharing the mortgage, then the person living in the house is living there rent free.

In all of these cases, one person might feel entitled to more of the proceeds of a sale than the other co-owner.

Common Mistakes: “I’ll live here and make the mortgage payments.”

One of the situations we see over and over is where one co-owner moves out, but the other wants to continue to live in the house. The person remaining in the house promises to continue to pay the mortgage. Of course, they never refinance or take the other person’s name off of the mortgage. This also happens a lot when people are married and finalize their own divorce.

The problems come when the co-owner living in the house stops making those mortgage payments. When this happens, the mortgage company forecloses on the house. This hurts the co-owner who is not living in the house, because:

  • If both co-owners are named on the mortgage, the foreclosure goes on both people’s credit reports.
  • A foreclosure means that the mortgage company will put the property up for a public sheriff’s sale. If the house is sold, any proceeds will be split evenly between the co-owners. This has the same problems as the section above if the co-owners have unequal contributions.
  • If the co-owner living in the house stops paying the mortgage, he or she is probably living there rent free. Even if the co-owners contributed evenly at the start, the co-owner who was supposed to be paying the mortgage is getting more of a benefit.
  • If the property was put on the market and sold right after the break-up, there might be some proceeds to split up. When a mortgage company forecloses, they add interest, penalties, attorneys’ fees and court costs. This means that very often there are no extra proceeds to split up if the house is foreclosed upon.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

There are a few ways to protect yourself from financial harm in this situation. At least, a few ways that do not include relationship advice. Some things to consider are:

  • Sign a “co-tenant agreement” before you purchase the property. A co-tenant agreement spells out the contributions of each person and how the proceeds of a sale are divided between them. For example, a typical provision in a co-tenant agreement might say that co-tenant A contributed $20,000 in down payments and closing costs. If the house is sold, co-tenant A gets the first $20,000 in proceeds, and the rest will be split evenly after that.
  • Do not let one co-tenant live in the house while both people are named on the deed and/or mortgage. This might sound like relationship advice, but it isn’t. If one person wants to keep the house, then they should buy it. Or they should refinance the mortgage in their own name (which is practically the same thing). If the co-owner cannot afford the house, you should put it up for sale and move on. You have broken up with the other person, split up your photos, settled ownership of the dog, etc. You should do the same thing with this big financial investment, too.
  • If you cannot agree, file a partition action. Putting the house up for sale needs both co-owners to cooperate. If you cannot get your former partner to cooperate, consider filing a partition action to protect yourself and your investment.
  • One for the parents: Don’t buy a house for your kids without taking back a mortgage. Maybe one of the sets of parents is able to provide money for a down payment or even purchase the house. You should consider a mortgage on the house. If not, the two co-owners are going to split up the money that the parents put into the house. If you are in the wonderful position to buy a $200,000 house for your child and his or her partner, and those two split up, the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend could walk away with half of your payment. If you put a mortgage on the property, and they split up and sell the house (whether voluntarily or in a partition action), your mortgage gets paid before they get any of the sale price.

The best, most general piece of advice when two co-owners break up is not to agree to anything without thinking through the financial outcomes. All of these suggestions help the parties move on without adding a financial heartbreak onto the emotional one.

Since COVID has changed the way that we live and work, I have seen a handful of legal issues come up over and over. While these are not new problems or opportunities, they have come up a lot more since COVID began. They could be a result of remote work, or the Great Resignation, or inflation and higher gas prices. Whatever the cause, our clients and friends have asked these questions more now than they ever have before. I wanted to write a series of posts to talk about these post-COVID scenarios. Hopefully these articles will help you plan to avoid problems, or let you know what you can do if you find yourself in the middle of one of these stories.

The Unwanted Houseguest

The first scenario that keeps coming up involves an adult child who moves back in with his or her parents (or into a house owned by his or her parents). The issue is when that adult child starts causing problems and refuses to leave. When I say, “causing problems,” I mean things like drugs, threats of violence against the parents, damaging the house, creating conflict with the neighbors, and things like that. In our post-COVID world, we are encountering this problem much more often. Parents come to us with their patience exhausted, asking what they can do to fix this situation.

The Adult Child’s Legal Status

When a client comes to us with this problem, one of their first questions is “Why can’t I call the police and remove our child from our home?” Our experience is that – unless there is a real, immediate threat of harm – the police will treat this arrangement as a matter between the two parties and will not interfere.

The best way to think about this living arrangement is as a lease, where the parents are the landlords, and the adult children are the tenants. Even if there is no signed lease agreement, the children probably have some sort of legal right to remain in the place where they are living. And the best way to remove them from the home is to treat them like a tenant and go through the process of “eviction.”

Overview of the Eviction Process

The eviction process in Pennsylvania is set out in the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act. Generally, the process goes like this:

  • The landlord gives an “Eviction Notice” to the tenant. The notice period needs to be 10 days for a failure to pay rent, or 15 days for a breach of the Lease or the end of the Lease term.
  • After the notice period is over, the landlord files a “Landlord/Tenant Complaint” with the local Magisterial District Justice. The MDJ schedules a hearing within a week or two from the date of the Complaint. The Complaint can ask for possession (i.e., kicking the tenant out), past due rent, and/or paying for damage to the property.
  • If the MDJ awards possession of the property to the landlord, after ten days, the landlord can go back to the MDJ and ask for an “Order for Possession”. The Order for Possession will order the tenant to leave the property within another ten days.
  • If the tenant does not leave the property in ten days, the sheriff or constable will forcibly remove them from the property.

Why Treat the Living Situation Like a Lease?

I think the best reason to treat this situation like a lease is because leases and eviction are predictable. Put yourself in the position of police or the local District Justice. No one wants to get involved in a family argument. But it is easy for a District Justice to look at one person as a landlord and one as a tenant. Their offices handle landlord/tenant matters nearly every day. There is a law and a process that they are bound and happy to follow in those kinds of problems.

This also makes the process predictable for the family members. If you provide a written Notice of Eviction, with 15 days to leave, then your intentions are very clear. Sometimes it is easier to follow a very exact legal schedule of events than to negotiate a move out date. Remember, this article is for the times when nothing else has worked, and adult children have become a real problem.

How Can You Make This Easier?

Since the best way to fix the problem is to treat it like a lease situation, the best thing you can do is to prepare a simple lease agreement at the start. This can be as simple as a piece of paper that says I am the landlord, you are the tenant, and there is a month-to-month lease term. That means that the parent/landlord can say that the lease has expired at the end of any month and start the eviction process. The lease agreement can have more in it than that. If there are rules and regulations that need to be followed (like no drugs, or following up with therapy), putting them in a written document helps emphasize them.

If you did not start with a written lease, and now find yourself in a situation where you need to remove your adult child from your home, all is not lost. We will treat the situation as if you had a month-to-month lease agreement all along. So, we will go through the same steps of providing a written Notice of Eviction, giving 15 days notice, going to the MDJ, and getting an Order for Possession. Those things are easier if you have a lease up front, but they are not impossible to perform if you do not.

Look for future installments in my series for a post-COVID World, including “We Bought a House Together and Broke Up”.

The reporting requirements for Pennsylvania registered businesses and foreign associations are about to change in 2024 with the enactment of Act 122 of 2022 (“the Act”). According to the Act, business entities will now be required to file an annual report with the Department of State. Prior to this change, businesses were only required to file a report every ten (10) years. This was called the decennial filing.

Businesses affected by this change are; domestic filing entities, domestic limited liability partnerships, domestic electing partnerships that are not a limited partnership or registered foreign association. The new filing requirements are effective January 2, 2024.

Each annual report must include the following information:

  • business name,
  • jurisdiction of incorporation,
  • name of one director, member or partner,
  • names and titles of the principal officers,
  • address of principal office, and
  • the entity number issues by the state.

With the annual report, each business must also pay a $7.00 filing fee (excluding non-profit organizations). A business that fails to file the annual report or pay the filing fee risks an involuntary dissolution or could lose the right to use their name. While a business may request that they be reinstated at any time, they would risk that their name is taken by another entity during their dissolution period. These new changes will create more work for the average business, but it will help keep the State’s entity information accurate and up to date. Having access to more accurate information will benefit everyone in the long run.

The previous post on protection from abuse orders explained what a PFA Order does, who can a PFA Order be issued against, the definition of abuse, and the two different types of PFA Orders. In this blog, I will describe how the PFA process works so that you can prepare if you find yourself in the middle of a PFA matter

Where to apply for a PFA Order?

A victim of domestic violence can file a PFA Petition at the Bail Administration Office located on the 5th floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse located at 50 North Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602. When you appear to file a PFA Petition, you should bring as much information with you about what happened to you and about the defendant, including their name, address, and place of work.

The petitioner will then have what is called an ex parte hearing, meaning communication between the petitioner and the judge only, where a judge decides to either grant or deny the request for a PFA on a temporary basis. If the judge grants the request, a Temporary PFA Order will be issued and will be served on the defendant by the sheriff’s department,. A Final Hearing on the PFA petition will be scheduled within 10 days.

You should expect to spend several hours at the Courthouse to complete this process.

Final PFA Order

A Final PFA Hearing is when the plaintiff and defendant both attend the hearing in front of the judge to determine if the defendant is found guilty of abuse towards the plaintiff. This hearing can only occur if the defendant was served. For this reason, it is important that you provide as much information as possible about where the defendant lives and works so that they can be served.

During the hearing, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant abused them and/or their minor child(ren). A final PFA Order is for a fixed period of time up to three years, but can be extended under certain circumstances.

The plaintiff and defendant can also reach an agreement as to a Final PFA Order being issued with respect to the requirements that the defendant must abide to and the timeframe for which the Final PFA Order is in place. If an agreement is reached, the parties will explain the agreement to the judge in the courtroom and there will not be a hearing.

What happens when the PFA expires?

Once the Order is expired, the PFA Order is no longer in effect, meaning the contact restrictions under the Order no longer apply. The defendant is free to contact the plaintiff and does not have to abide by the requirements in the Order that were once set in place.

Extending a Final PFA Order

If the circumstances that led to the entry of the Final PFA Order are not resolved by the time the PFA expires, the plaintiff can go to the courthouse and file a petition for an extension of the final PFA Order. There are certain circumstances where a judge will grant a plaintiff’s request to extend the final PFA Order.

An extension may be granted when the defendant committed one or more acts of abuse after the entry of the final PFA Order or the defendant engaged in a pattern or practice that shows there is a risk of harm to the plaintiff or the minor child(ren). An extension may also be granted when the defendant is or was incarcerated and will be released from custody within the next 90 days or has been released from custody within the past 90 days. There is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted.

If you find yourself in need of an attorney to advise you on how to file for a PFA or if you find yourself defending against a PFA, contact one of our attorneys to discuss your options and the best way to prepare for your hearing.

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

For most people, it can be very scary when a lawsuit is filed against them. When someone finds out they are being sued, they may not know exactly what that means or what will happen if a judgment is entered against them, especially one directing them to pay money.

One of the first questions that might pop into their mind is whether the person or business that filed a suit against them (legally known as the “plaintiff”) can take their house if they win. This is especially concerning since, for many Pennsylvanians, their home is the most valuable and important asset that they own.

This article will explain what happens when a judgment is entered against a defendant (in other words, the person being sued) and how that may affect the defendant’s ownership interest in their home.

What does it mean when a judgment is entered against the defendant?

A judgment is an award by the court granting a plaintiff some sort of relief against a defendant. A judgment is typically a court order directing a defendant to pay a plaintiff a sum of money.

Before a plaintiff can even attempt to collect from a defendant’s assets, they must first obtain a judgment against the defendant. Without a judgment, a plaintiff does not have the authority to take any property owned by the defendant. The plaintiff must win the lawsuit first.

In general, a plaintiff can only obtain a judgment against a  defendant after one of the following things occurs:

  • a plaintiff wins the lawsuit after a trial;
  • the parties agree to a settlement that will be entered as a final judgment; or
  • the defendant fails to respond to the lawsuit and a default judgment is entered against them.

When a judgment is entered for any of the reasons listed above, it gives the plaintiff the right to collect the amount of money ordered in the judgment.

Once a judgment is entered, the parties often negotiate a process and timeline for the defendant to settle the judgment through direct payment. In some cases, the defendant can’t or won’t agree to pay the judgment and the plaintiff has to take additional steps to get their money. This process is called “executing” the judgment.

A judgment may be executed in a variety of ways including seizing assets held in bank accounts and, in some cases, levying and selling the defendant’s real property, including their home.

Not All Real Estate Is Subject to Execution Continue Reading A Judgment Has Been Entered Against Me. Is My House Safe From Judgment Creditors?

A judge's gavelDomestic violence is a very serious and sensitive problem. Receiving threatening text messages or calls, physical abuse to the body, or showing up to your house unannounced and uninvited and making threats are all circumstances that may make someone consider filing for a PFA Order.  If you find yourself in need of protection against domestic violence, the Protection from Abuse process provides a way to obtain protection from your abuser.

I have represented plaintiffs and defendants in PFA matters, and I understand the stress that comes along with obtaining or defending a PFA Order and how serious PFA matters should be handled. Whether you are filing a PFA against someone else or have had one filed against you, it is important to understand what a PFA is and how the PFA system works so that you can be prepared.

What is a PFA?

Many times we hear a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order incorrectly referred to as a “restraining order.” In Pennsylvania, it is a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, not a restraining order that is issued by the court to protect victims of domestic violence, and, in some cases, their children, from their abuser.

A PFA Order is a civil order that protects a person and/or their minor children from domestic abuse by their abuser.   A PFA Order will do several things to protect the victim:

  • require an abuser to abide by certain requirements, such as refraining from being in the presence of the victim(s);
  • prevent an abuser from stalking, harassing, threatening, abusing, or attempting to use physical force;
  • and prevent an abuser from contacting the victim(s) or third parties to relay or get in contact with the victim(s) protected under the PFA Order.

A PFA Order also may evict the abuser from a shared residence, may prohibit the abuser from possessing any firearms, and may award temporary physical custody of the parties’ children to the victim.

Who can a PFA Order be issued against?

The Pennsylvania PFA Act sets forth specific rules on who a victim of domestic violence can file a PFA against.

Continue Reading What is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order?

Many condominium and homeowners’ associations worry about people who are registered as sex offenders under the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), usually referred to as “Megan’s Law.” Many associations I work with have considered a range of ideas, from not allowing Megan’s Law registrants to use the community pool all the way to not allowing Megan’s Law registrants to own or rent units in the community. Up until now, there has not been much legal guidance on what an association can and cannot do. A recent case, Lake Naomi Club, Inc. v. Rosado, is the first Pennsylvania case to address some of these questions.

What is Megan’s Law?

Megan’s Law requires people who are convicted of certain sexual crimes to register with the Pennsylvania State Police. Registration may include information on where the person lives and works, photos and physical descriptions of the person, and descriptions of the crime that triggered the registration. Depending on the “Tier” of the sexual offense, a person could be required to register on the Megan’s Law site for 10, 15 or 25 years, or for life.

Some of the worst offenders – defined as “Sexually Violent Predators” – trigger a community notification process. For these registrants, the police will provide notification to anyone who lives or works within 250 feet of the registrant’s home, or to the 25 closest residences. They also provide notice to local school districts, day cares and preschools.

Megan’s Law does not say where registrants can or cannot live or work. Other than notification for Sexually Violent Predators, Megan’s Law does not require the police to tell anyone when a registrant moves into the community. People can search for sexual offenders or request notifications through the State Police.

The Lake Naomi case.

Lake Naomi HOA amended its Declaration to say that no registered Tier III sex offender can reside in any home within the Community. The amendment was approved by over 70% of the Unit Owners. Mr. Rosado owned a home in Lake Naomi when the amendment was passed. The Association sued Rosado to keep him from living in his home.

The Commonwealth Court decided that the Association could not prohibit Megan’s Law registrants from living in the Community. The Court said that Megan’s Law and the Parole Board establish the statewide public policy that regulates where Megan’s Law registrants may live. No condominium or homeowners’ association is allowed to restrict where sex offenders can or cannot live. Continue Reading Associations Cannot Ban Sex Offenders from Community

Mark your calendars for the Lancaster County Extraordinary Give, occurring this week on Friday, November 18th.  Russell, Krafft & Gruber is thrilled to participate in the #Extragive as a Commonwealth Court Sponsor of the Lancaster Law Foundation, one of the numerous nonprofits fundraising during the event.

The Lancaster Law Foundation (formerly known as the Lancaster Bar Association Foundation) is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Lancaster County residents by promoting equal access to justice through philanthropy, education, and service.  The Foundation funds public interest law projects, coordinates with local attorneys in delivering pro bono service, and educates the public on civic and legal issues.

In 2022 the Foundation, as part of the Community Grants Program, granted $84,000 to local nonprofits making a difference in our community.  The Foundation also spent about $4,000 to create two new comfort rooms at the Lancaster County Courthouse.  These rooms are intended to ease anxiety for children who must testify in court in custody and protection from abuse hearings.  We at Russell, Krafft & Gruber are proud to have two attorneys serve on the Lancaster Law Foundation board, Julia G. Vanasse, Esq. and Nichole M. Baer, Esq. Continue Reading #ExtraGive and Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP

November is National Adoption Month and over the years, Lancaster County Orphan’s Court Judges have celebrated it with balloons and LOTS of adoption finalizations on a single day. The tradition was begun by the Honorable Judge Jay J. Hoberg but was suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19. This year, with the help of the Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency and the Young Lawyers Section of the Lancaster County Bar Association, the Honorable Jeffrey J. Reich resurrected the tradition.

Thank you to LNP who featured the happy event in an article this morning. With more balloons, a celebratory banner, candy for attendees and a personalized gift from the Young Lawyers Section, twelve children officially became part of their forever family yesterday. I had the honor of representing the adoptive families and it was truly what the Honorable Judge Jeffrey Reich always refers to as “Happy Court.” Throughout the year, I am privileged to represent families in adoptions both through an Agency, privately, in step-parent adoptions, and internationally. But, Adoption Day is always just a little bit more fun because of the number of children and families who get to celebrate together. Special thanks to Judge Reich, the Children and Youth Agency, the Lancaster Bar Association leadership and the Young Lawyers Section for making this year extra special.  And a big thank you and warm virtual hug to all my adoptive families and their children who make my job a little sweeter throughout the year.