Under Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act (“Act 135”), the court can appoint a conservator of a property so long as the petitioner proves several conditions relating to abandonment and blight. A threshold consideration is whether the subject property has been legally occupied within the twelve months prior to the filing of a petition to appoint a conservator. Recently, the Superior Court added to the growing body of appellate law interpreting Act 135 in considering the meaning of “legally occupied.” In Scioli Turco, Inc. v. Prioleau, et al., __ A.3d __, 2019 WL 1414168 (Pa. Super. 2019), the petitioner/proposed conservator maintained that while occupancy by vagrants or trespassers is not “legal occupation,” neither is occupancy of a property that has been designated unsafe and hazardous.
The Superior Court agreed, holding that “term ‘legally occupied’ is unambiguous and means ‘occupied in a manner that comports with the law.’” Per the Superior Court, a lesser standard would allow an owner to evade/frustrate Act 135 by merely occupying the property for some amount of time during the year. To avoid this result, the Superior Court held that there must be unambiguous “proof that the building in question has not been lived in during the preceding twelve months in conformity with the laws regulating the right to occupancy.” Such proof can be that the property was unoccupied or occupied by vagrants, or that some statute or code provision prohibited habitation of the property (for example, if inspectors had deemed the property unfit for human habitation).
Despite agreeing with Scioli Turco’s interpretation of Act 135, the Superior Court disagreed that the property at issue was not legally occupied. Although the property had been subject to violations that could allow an inspector to vacate the property, there was no evidence that any code violations ever resulted in the evacuation of the property or a prohibition on occupancy. Accordingly, the Superior Court held that the conditions for conservatorship were not met and affirmed the trial court’s denial of the petition.
 Although Mr. Piccirilli and Ms. Platt represent Scioli Turco in other matters, they were not involved with this case.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss these issues, please call Gaetano Piccirilli at 215.569.3699, firstname.lastname@example.org or Monica Clarke Platt at 215.569.3006, email@example.com. Mr. Piccirilli is a partner in the firm’s litigation department and devotes part of his practice to counseling clients in the real estate and construction industries. Ms. Platt is an attorney in the firm’s litigation department who focuses on complex business disputes. Mr. Piccirilli and Ms. Platt also frequently represent petitioners seeking to gain conservatorship over abandoned and blighted properties under Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act.
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