Death complicates ground rent


Dear Mr. Azrael:

I have a home in Rodgers Forge that is subject to a ground rent, due semiannually. The ground rent was put in escrow by the mortgage company until December [of 1998].

At that time, I was informed by letter that the mortgage company would no long escrow the ground rent. The name and address of the ground rent owner was provided to me. Several months later, my mortgage was sold.

In the subsequent confusion during the change of providers, I forgot to make the ground rent payment due in May [1999]. I realized my error and sent the check in full in the amount of one year's ground rent [last] November.

The letter was returned to me unopened and the outside of the envelope was marked that the person to whom I should pay the ground rent is deceased. I received no correspondence about the ground rent since the letter from my past mortgage provider and I'm in a quandary.

Dana Bentley, Rodgers Forge

Dear Ms. Bentley:

Keep the envelope that was returned to you, for proof that you tried to pay the ground rent.

You now have several options:

You can do nothing, and see if the new owner of the ground rent contacts you. The most you can be responsible for is three years of unpaid ground rent. If the ground rent is not current when you sell your property, you may have to escrow up to three years' unpaid ground rent with the buyer's title company in case a claim is made by the owner of the ground rent.

You can check with the register of wills in the state and county where the deceased ground rent owner lived. If an estate was opened, you can send the payment to the executor of the dead owner's estate. You also can try contacting the owner's heirs. Alternatively, you can offer to purchase the ground rent. Since no one seems interested in taking your payment, you may be able to buy the ground rent at a substantial discount. Before paying, obtain a title search of the land to make sure you are getting good and marketable title to the ground rent.

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