Fast-Track Foreclosure for Abandoned Homes in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law allows for faster foreclosures of homes that are vacant and abandoned.

If you fall behind on your mortgage payments and permanently move out of your Pennsylvania home, you might face an expedited foreclosure process. Under the state's fast-track law, once your lender shows that you've abandoned the property, it can skip any foreclosure diversion program requirements and the sheriff generally must order a foreclosure sale within 60 days.

Read on to learn what a lender must prove to expedite the foreclosure and what you can do if you’re facing a fast-track foreclosure, but you still live in the home.

Overview of the Pennsylvania Foreclosure Process

In Pennsylvania, foreclosures are judicial, which means the lender has to file a lawsuit in court. (In some states, however, lenders don’t have to go through the court system to foreclose. This process is called a "nonjudicial foreclosure.")

The regular judicial foreclosure process in Pennsylvania can take a long time—anywhere from 300 to 540 days as of 2018—but a fast-track law allows a lender to speed up a foreclosure if it can prove the property is “vacant and abandoned.” (To learn details about the regular foreclosure process in Pennsylvania, see Pennsylvania Foreclosure Laws and Procedures.)

What Constitutes "Vacant and Abandoned"?

To show that a property is vacant, the lender must provide evidence that:

  • the property was found to be vacant at the time of two inspections occurring at least 45 days apart
  • after the first inspection, a notice was posted on the property advising any occupants to immediately contact the person who conducted the inspection and that failure to do so may have adverse legal consequences, and
  • no one legally entitled to occupy the property responded to the posted notice before the second inspection. (68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2305).

The lender must also show that the property meets at least three of the following criteria.

  • Multiple windows, doors, or entrances to the property are boarded up, unhinged, closed off, smashed in, or are continuously unlocked.
  • The property has been stripped of copper or other metals.
  • Interior furnishings, personal items, appliances, or fixtures have been removed from the property, including window treatments, like blinds, curtains, or shutters.
  • Gas, electric, water, or sewer utility services have been turned off or are in the name of the lender.
  • Newspapers, circulars, flyers, or mail has accumulated on the property or the USPS has discontinued delivery to the property.
  • Rubbish, trash, debris, neglected vegetation, or natural overgrowth has accumulated on the property.
  • Multiple municipal building or housing code violations exist for the property and the violations have been documented as being uncorrected during the preceding year.
  • The property's adjoining neighbors, adjacent neighbors, delivery persons, or a municipal code enforcement officer have issued written and signed statements indicating that the property is vacant and abandoned.
  • Hazardous, noxious, or unhealthy substances or materials have accumulated on the property.
  • The homeowner or borrower has stated that the property has been vacated or abandoned, or that they intend to do so. (68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2305).

    How the Lender Gets a Fast-Track Foreclosure

    To fast track a foreclosure, the lender can ask the court or a municipal code enforcement officer to certify that the property is vacant and abandoned. (68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2304).

    Court process. In the court process, the lender files an affidavit by a municipal code enforcement officer, the lender, or by a competent adult who has personal knowledge of the property’s condition (including a property inspector or agent that the lender retained) saying the property is vacant and abandoned. The lender must also include photographic evidence showing abandonment. The filed affidavit, along with a “Rule to Show Cause,” is then served on the borrower. If you still live in the property, you’ll need to file a response within 20 days certifying under oath that the property isn’t vacant or abandoned. The court will then set a hearing and make a final determination. If you don’t respond, the court can certify the property as vacant, and the lender may proceed with a fast-track foreclosure.

    Municipal code enforcement officer process. The lender can also get a fast-track foreclosure by asking a municipal code enforcement officer to certify the property as vacant. The code enforcement officer inspects the property and provides a report certifying its status as vacant and abandoned. You’ll then get a notice about the results of the inspection and that you must seek a hearing to challenge the vacancy determination, or the determination will be final.

    A Shortened Foreclosure Process

    Once the property is certified as vacant, the foreclosure process is shortened. Vacant properties are excused from all county foreclosure diversion programs, which eliminates months of delay in many counties. (68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2306).

    Also, upon the request of the lender, the sheriff will schedule a sale of the property to happen no later than 60 days after the filing of the writ of execution. (68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2306).

    A Fast-Track Foreclosure Can Hurt or Help You

    If you still live in your home, a fast-track foreclosure can be a big problem because it means you’ll lose your property much faster than normal. A shortened foreclosure process deprives you of valuable time to work out an alternative to foreclosure, like a modification, or to live in the house without making payments.

    On the other hand, if you've permanently moved out of the property, a fast-track foreclosure could help you avoid becoming the victim of a zombie foreclosure.

    Talk to a Lawyer

    If you’re facing a foreclosure, either fast track or regular, and want to challenge the action, consider talking to a local foreclosure lawyer. A foreclosure lawyer can help you respond to a lender seeking a fast-track foreclosure, advise you about potential defenses to foreclosure, represent you in court, and give you information about any other options you might have in your particular circumstances.

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