Residential Real Estate – Buyer Beware
You worked hard to save up for a down payment, you received your pre-approval from the lender, and you are ready to put in your offer, but regardless of whether you are a first time home buyer or a seasoned real estate investor, if you don’t do your due diligence, that dream home can became a nightmare.
Here you are, the seller accepted your offer, you have a signed agreement of sale, and you are ready to do your due diligence. While many buyers go through the process of hiring numerous professionals to conduct a myriad of inspections, review their soon to be castle from top to bottom, and purchase an owner policy from a title insurer, few go through the process of reviewing the property records that are held by the local municipality.
Pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (the “RTKL”), 65 P.S. § 67.101 et. seq., all commonwealth, local, legislative, and judicial agencies must, upon request, provide a requester with public records in accordance with the Act. Any record in the possession of one of these agencies is presumed to be a public record, unless one of the limited exemptions applies. 65 P.S. § 67.305.
Under the RTKL, a “Record” is defined as, “[i]nformation, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business or activity of the agency. The term includes a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound recording, information stored or maintained electronically and a data-processed or image-processed document.” 65 P.S. § 67.102. A “Public Record” is simply a record that is not exempt from disclosure by the RTKL or any other Federal or State Law and is not protected by a privilege such as attorney-client or doctor-patient. Id.
Through a Right-to-Know request, a potential buyer can secure invaluable information regarding the property they wish to purchase that often times may not appear in a title search, such as whether the property is nonconforming under the current zoning ordinance or whether variances, conditional uses, or special exceptions were properly secured in the past. Furthermore, by fully reviewing the property records held by the municipality, a buyer can get a better understanding of what they will and will not be able to do with the property in the future.
If you have questions about the Right-to-Know law, or need guidance in purchasing your future home, the attorneys at HRMM&L are here to help you realize your dreams of home ownership.
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