PA Landowner Issue: Title Washing & How it May Affect Your Lease

Pennsylvania landowners entering into leases for oil and gas drilling on and under their property need to be aware of an issue exclusive to PA called “title washing.” Lawyer Ronald L. Hicks, Jr. from the firm Meyer, Unkovic & Scott writes about title washing in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

What is title washing? As Hicks explains, it is a now-dormant practice whereby landowners who owed back taxes on a property would let the property go to a tax sale and then buy it back themselves at a discount because the tax sale would be accepted as a payoff of the old tax debt (pennies on the dollar). This happened mostly from 1900-1950. As part of the “washing” process, title to both the surface and the subsurface was provided free and clear. But recent PA court decisions have said oil and gas rights were not a part of the subsurface “washing”. It’s a tangled, complicated mess. Bottom line, according to Hicks, landowners should have their titles researched before signing a lease–and make sure any tax sales in the history of the lease are examined very closely to see if title washing was involved…

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