Abandoned House in Chesterbrook – Owner Deceased, Who is Responsible?’

Few things rattle a neighborhood like an abandoned home. Run-down and abandoned homes can make an entire neighborhood look bad. Trash, overgrown grass and pest problems can spill over into neighboring properties. But abandoned houses can be more than just an eyesore — they can bring down property values, create safety hazards and invite crime. But who owns these properties, and what can you do to make them take responsibility for their home?

There’s a difference between a home that is simply vacant, meaning everyone in the neighborhood knows when and why the last residents left, from an abandoned home, where people sort of left without saying good-bye.  Such is the case with a single-family home in Chesterbrook – the residents left one day four years ago and never returned.

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At the end of the Tredyffrin supervisors meeting on May 16 , under ‘New Matters’, a group of citizens from the  quiet Armstrong Court cul-de-sac in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook spoke about the abandoned home on their street.  They passionately described a deteriorating overgrown house where the residents simply disappeared about 4 years ago, in 2012.

The neighbors went on to describe unusual activity at the house during the past winter – different people regularly coming and going during the middle of the night, departing by sunrise each day.  Concerned for their safety and the rundown, overgrown appearance of the house, they told the supervisors that they had made phone calls to the police – one neighbor reported her concern was dismissed and told that she was a ‘busy body’.

For those that may not know, the Fox Hollow development is located in theFox Hollow 6 far western section of Chesterbrook. The rear yard of the abandoned house backs up to the PA Turnpike; and very little separates the speeding cars from the property. Concerned about its unkempt appearance, neighbors admit that they took turns keeping the grass mowed, so as not to detract from their own properties.

Following the May supervisors meeting, I have had contact with several of the Armstrong Court homeowners.  Visiting the neighborhood, I tried to assure the residents that between the township staff, supervisors and police, help was on its way.  It has been a month since the last supervisors meeting and unfortunately, the neighbors report no follow-up contact and little change.

Fox Hollow 4

Walking around the house, it is obvious that the house is in complete disrepair. Due to severe deterioration, it’s unclear if the building is salvageable.  There are holes in the roof and on the end of the upper floor, piles of trash bags and furniture parts on the driveway and garage area, uncovered utility pipe in the front yard, water and electric turnoff notices littering the walkway and the front door is adorned with official-looking vacant/abandoned stickers.

I checked Chester County public document database for property ownership and discovered that the owner of record (who neighbors claim never lived in the house) purchased the home in 2005 at the age of 88.  According to the neighbors, it was the owner’s son and his family who occupied the property until abruptly leaving in 2012.  According to her obituary, the elderly owner passed away in May 2011 at the age of 94 in a Wynnewood nursing home.  Public records indicate that the mortgage was satisfied in April 2013 and that property taxes are current. Although the owner (who never lived in the house) passed away four years ago, her name remains listed as the sole owner in 2016.

Single-family homes in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook are valuable. A quick check on Zillow indicates a house, around the corner from the abandoned Armstrong Court home, sold for $700K last September. Why pay off the mortgage and stay current with taxes and let the vacant house fall to disrepair for 4 years.  It makes no sense.

The neighbors need help; which is why they spoke publicly at the May supervisors meeting. They are worried about their safety (remember the house backs up to the turnpike), possible illegal activities, devaluation of property values … and the list goes on and on.  The owner of the property is deceased, so what can these folks do?

Tredyffrin Township’s elected officials, staff, solicitor, police … Who is responsible for helping these Tredyffrin Township residents?

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12 Comments

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  1. From this report, there appear to be many violations of the Tredyffrin Property Maintenance Ordinance. I would think that the residents should look to the Code Officials for enforcement action.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    You are right Ray — a review of the township ordinances, it certainly appears that this Fox Hollow house is not in compliance. The problem is that the neighbors cannot enforce the ordinances – it it is up to the township staff, specifically the zoning enforcement officer.

    [Reply]

  2. That’s very bold, and startling that a Public and or elected official would call a citizen calling in about an abandoned home in their neighborhood a “busy body.”

    Were the neighbors who called in about the 9 girls “gifted” by their parent to an older man ,one who gave birth at 15 and then again recently, “busy body’s too? I guess so because nothing was done about that for years either.

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  3. Thank you for shedding light on this issue. The decrepit fence behind Fox Hollow along the turnpike is a disgrace & an accident waiting to happen as well. It’s shockingly disappointing how little attention is paid to these matters that directly impact the safety & value of our otherwise beautiful community!

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  4. There isn’t anything practical the township can do. At best, it could levy a $1,000 fine after a civil enforcement proceeding, which would end up costing more than a $1,000 to see through. The key is the taxes are current. If they were not, then the township could have a shot at selling the property at a sheriff’s sale.

    Believe it or not, there may be more relief via the CB HOA.

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  5. I was thinking the same thing, Common Sense. Look at the HOA rules and regs. There has to be violations here that would allow the Board to take action.

    Have letters been written to the owner? In some Home Owner agreements, home owners can be fined each day until the work is completed. If no attempt is made to complete the work, the HOA can then hire someone to complete the work and then bill the owner.

    Some agreements give extreme power to Boards where Directors have the authority to review paint colors for front doors and decide what curtains are appropriate for front windows.

    Some agreements specify to the 1/2 inch how high grass can grow before a letter is issued and a fine levied if not cut in a timely fashion. Swing sets, sheds, doll houses, architectural changes, pools etc. need HOA approval before plans are executed. And watch out if your mail box doesn’t meet HOA standards. They’ll tell you what to buy, and who to buy it from complete with order form and phone number siting delivery times and installation instructions.

    In cases like the one you describe, HOA’s can be very effective.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Fox Hollow does not have an active HOA. It is a very small community of single family homes and is the only one not part of Chesterbrook Civic Association. The owner of the property is deceased, five years ago. The mortgage was satisfied and the taxes are paid but by whom??? There is no mailbox (snow plow removed it awhile back) so the tax bills are mailed somewhere. There was discussion on this situation at last night’s BOS meeting. The township is now mowing the lawn at the abandoned house and the police are to do drive-bys. Per his request, I have sent the deceased owner’s next of kin contact information to Vince Donohue, the township solicitor. It was the son, wife and daughter who lived in the house and then abruptly left 4 years ago. The process is now underway by the township for resolution of the situation.

    [Reply]

  6. I came across this article as I was doing my research today and found that Sylvia Ganz was the owner (by the recorder of deeds). I was looking into purchasing and renovating the property. I spoke with the sheriff’s office who referred me to Wells Fargo and Wells Fargo told me that they do not own the property. Interestingly I found out that Wells Fargo may be paying the taxes for the estate even though they do not own it.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I was told that there was an outstanding note with Wells Fargo on this property — interesting that Wells Fargo says otherwise. Makes no sense that Wells Fargo is paying the taxes but doesn’t own it, does it? And yes, Sylvia Ganz is the deceased owner of the property. Nothing about this situation is simple. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Regarding payment of taxes, mortgage etc, the house may be in an estate that has not been finally settled but has some money to pay these costs. If so, there would be an executor either named in the owner’s will or could be appointed by the court. This would be public record if the estate has gone through probate.

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  8. I read the article and did some research to find Mrs.Sylvia Ganz’s children and found something very interesting. She has a 2 sons,Louis Ganz and Jonathan Ganz. Jonathan served time in the last few years for mortgage/home improvement loan fraud and this could be why the authorities can’t find him….here are some links
    FBI — Two Indicted in Home Improvement Loan Scam
    https://www.fbi.gov/philadelphia/press…/ph032610.ht…
    Federal Bureau of Investigation
    Mar 26, 2010 – PHILADELPHIA—The owner of a home improvement company and a … Jonathan Ganz, a loan officer for a mortgage brokerage company, …
    Crooked Ex-lawyer Gets 53 Mos. Judge Scorns Plea To Spare Him Jail
    articles.philly.com › Lawyer
    Jun 15, 1995 – Another former Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyer, Jonathan H. Ganz, recently was sentenced to a two-year prison term by another federal judge …
    U.S. v. GANZ by TUCKER, Chief Judge | Leagle.com
    http://www.leagle.com/decision/In%20FDCO%2020150211E74/U.S.%20v.%20GANZ
    Feb 9, 2015 – This criminal case arises out of Defendant Jonathan Ganz’s fraudulent … Law Offices of David E. Shapiro, Philadelphia, PA, for Jonathan Ganz.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Yes, your information is correct regarding Jonathan Ganz. About a month ago, I turned over my research regarding Ganz, background and current contact information to Tredyffrin Twp solicitor Vince Donohue — he is continuing to work on the situation and making contact with the estate. In the interim, the township has cleaned up the trash and is mowing the grass.

    [Reply]

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