Abandoned property purchase much harder than it appears
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
By Chadwick Dolgos
Don Tollan’s plan to purchase the abandoned rowhouse located at 5 Olivia St. in Stowe has hit a brick wall.
A resident of Stowe Township for more than 28 years, as well as a landlord, Tollan said his failed attempts to appeal to the Sto-Rox school directors and Stowe’s board of commissioners for tax forgiveness on the property is making it increasingly difficult to make the purchase a reality.
“I have already invested a great deal of time and financial resources in order to locate the heirs of the deceased owner so that the property can be legally conveyed to me,” he told the board of commissioners Nov. 9.
A proposal presented by Sto-Rox School Board President Samantha Levitzki-Wright on Sept. 14 to Stowe officials outlined a plan to forgive school taxes on abandoned properties in the area and further piqued his interest in becoming owner of the property.
“I was only interested in that property after reading [the article] and seeing Samantha’s plan,” said Tollan, of the Sept. 30 Gazette 2.0 article outlining her proposal. “Now, I’m out a couple thousand dollars either way.”
Levitzki-Wright explained that, when she addressed the commissioners in September, she wasn’t making an official proposal, but rather opening the door for future dialogue.
“The conversation, when I did go to the commissioners, was exactly that: It was for the commissioners, it wasn’t for anybody else.”
Currently, there is no official proposal in place. “We’re still making up the requirements and eligibility for that process, and we’re trying to weigh our options,” said Levitzki-Wright.
“Essentially, we just want to meet with the other elected officials and have a conversation so that we’re all on the same page.”
Tollan addressed the school board Oct. 29 requesting they waive the back school taxes on his property of interest.
“I had previously addressed the Sto-Rox School Board with a similar request at their last meeting, but my request was denied at that time with a statement that if the township would dismiss their delinquencies, they would follow the same path,” Tollan told the Stowe commissioners Nov. 9.
Upon leaving the school board meeting in October, he believed that the back school taxes owed on the property totaled $2,536.35.
The next day, he called his attorney and discovered that he would actually owe $5,426.73 after legal fees, penalties, and interest was taken into account.
Tollan received an official denial for his request to waive the back school taxes owed on the property via email.
Levitzki-Wright said the board declined Tollan’s request because her initial proposal, which she emphasized is a work in progress, was never intended for investors and landlords to take advantage of, but for homeowners looking to call the Sto-Rox school district home.
“We want to see our families become more stable,” she said.
“Renting versus homeownership doesn’t allow that process to guarantee that we’re going to have that tenant there the next year.”
Tollan, who owns four other units in the same row of houses, described the property in interest as being in poor condition. “The roof is in serious disrepair, which is causing leaks into my current unit of this row,” adding that, “Doors and windows that are in disrepair and allowing rodent intrusion, as well as rainwater and snow.”
He said he has been taking routine care of the property for several years.
“I already cleaned up and removed six bags of trash, and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.
He further explained that he doesn’t have a choice but to do the necessary repairs on the house, whether or not he ends up owning it, because the damage to the roof alone is causing leakage into his property next door. “I’m just trying to keep the properties together and protect my investments.”
Stowe Commissioner Darrell Chestnutt explained that Tollan would have to get everything else resolved before the township could forgive their portion of delinquent taxes on the property. “We are the least of his worries,” said Chestnutt, noting the township taxes owed on the property are approximately $800.
“He still has to get the County, Sto-Rox School District, ALCOSAN, Berkheimer, Keystone, etc. to forgive,” said Chestnutt, who estimates that all back taxes owed on the property would, “probably total somewhere in the neighborhood of [more than] $20,000.”
Chestnutt said the board is willing to forgive their portion of the back taxes owed if the Sto-Rox School Board is also willing to forgive their portion of the taxes owed. “If they’re willing, we’re willing.”
Levitzki-Wright said that the school board has made up its minds regarding Tollan’s request to waive the back school taxes owed on 5 Olivia St., but encourages others interested in purchasing properties in the future to come to the board. “Right now, we’re just taking it request by request and kind of feeling it out.”
“Just because it didn’t work out with one person doesn’t mean it won’t work out for another,” said Levitzki-Wright. “We’re willing to work with people.”