Visitor Question: Someone contacted me about an old deed restriction on a property no longer owned by my grandfather, who passed away many years ago. The person who contacted me made a threat of taking me to court. What should I think about this? I have no idea what the restriction is. The property was sold to someone 20 years ago or more. I am in Hershey PA.
Editors Respond: It sounds as though your grandfather may have placed a deed restriction on the property while he owned it. (At least that is what the person who contacted you thinks.)
That was perfectly within your grandfather's rights. People can and do write deed restrictions about anything and everything, from types of buildings and uses on the property to animals that can be kept, land that must be conserved as wilderness, or rules about converting garages.
The person who contacted you probably wants the restriction lifted. The restriction may have said that the written consent of all heirs is required to change the restriction, to cite a common example. And if you refused, the only way to combat that for the other person might be to take you to court.
Probably this is what is happening, but we cannot be 100 percent sure of course.
You can ignore this person, but he or she might indeed take you to court, which would require you to either invest the time and effort in understanding the situation so you could settle before the court date, or to pursue the matter all the way.
So if we were in your shoes, we would deal with the person who contacted you. Ask to have the situation clarified. If it is as we suspect, and your grandfather initiated a deed restriction, ask to have a copy of the exact wording provided to you.
Then if you do not care one way or another if the restriction stands, we do not think it would be disloyal to your grandfather to cooperate and provide whatever kind of statement your contact needs. But if you have any hesitation, either because of what you think your grandfather would have wanted or because of your own feelings about the property and the situation, you do not have to give in.
You also will want to think through whether a judge seems likely to think that the other party is making a reasonable request. If so, it may be more expensive in money and time to fight this than it is worth.
On the other hand, if the person who contacted you turns out to be seeking something totally unreasonable, such as a complete lifting of a restriction against all development imposed by your grandfather, it may be worthwhile to you to decline to cooperate and then face whatever suit may be brought against you.
We suppose that the less likely possibility is that the person who contacted you is an heir of someone who owned the property even before your grandfather did, and this person alleges that your grandfather did not follow the restriction. We always remind people that we are not attorneys, but planners, but in this case we think you cannot be held responsible for your grandfather's actions.
We hope these thoughts will help prepare you to deal with whatever additional communication about this deed restriction comes your way.
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