Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

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mac_guy
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Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by mac_guy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:09 pm

Hi. I have a relative who lives in a twin home. This twin home is basically two homes that share a common wall. My relative owns the side of the home they live in. The other side is owned and occupied by someone else. Both sides of the twin home are about 1800 sq feet.

So, I recently helped my relative find a new homeowners insurance policy. As I was looking at the policy, I thought of an important question that I have not be able to find a satisfactory answer for: What would happen if a fire breaks out and the entire home burns down? Assume the damage is so great that both side of the property are destroyed and both owners have a total loss. OK, so in this case, both owners would get compensated by their insurance companies. What would happen if one owner decides they don't want to rebuild?

This may actually be an issue. The neighborhood has a very old housing stock and tear-downs are becoming common. It is a desirable neighborhood, the brand new homes command a significant premium over the older homes. I could imagine one owner of my relative's twin home saying they would rather take the settlement and then sell the land to a developer for a new home to be built (either a single family property or new twin home) and they would move somewhere else.

Say, however, my relative wanted to rebuild their home and continue living there, but the owner of the other side wanted to sell the land? I don't think you can build half a house, right? Wouldn't the other owner have veto power over any plan? You couldn't force them to build a new home if they didn't want to? Right?

Anyway, so I asked this question to my relative's new insurance agent and they couldn't give me an answer. Anyone have any idea how this particular situation is settled? One complicating factor is that each owner has very little spare ground. I don't think they could just make a full single home on the land they own because it would have to be built so close to the other owners property line.

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Phineas J. Whoopee
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Phineas J. Whoopee » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:18 pm

What is the legal form in which each owns 1/2 of the building? Condominium? Something else?
PJW

mac_guy
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by mac_guy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:22 pm

Phineas J. Whoopee wrote:What is the legal form in which each owns 1/2 of the building? Condominium? Something else?
PJW


It is not condominium. I think they each own half of the house outright. Each half has its own address and driveway and yard. They are just connected by a common wall in the middle of house. When any roof work is done, each owner is responsible for their half of the roof.

I should add that I could imagine one owner saying that the entire property would be worth more if a developer could just rebuild a single family home on the entire property and holding out to force the other owner to sell their half.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by dm200 » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:29 pm

More commonly, I have seen this arrangement called a "duplex" and there is an area of quite a few of these in my neighborhood. I assume this arrangement is the same as a "duplex". As far as I know, ownership of land and "house" is separate. Interesting question. It may depend on the zoning and related matters.

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Phineas J. Whoopee
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Phineas J. Whoopee » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:33 pm

mac_guy wrote:
Phineas J. Whoopee wrote:What is the legal form in which each owns 1/2 of the building? Condominium? Something else?
PJW

It is not condominium. I think they each own half of the house outright. Each half has its own address and driveway and yard. They are just connected by a common wall in the middle of house. When any roof work is done, each owner is responsible for their half of the roof.
...

Who decides when to do roof work, what to do, what materials to use, and which contractor to hire? Who does each owner pay?
PJW

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by mac_guy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:38 pm

Phineas J. Whoopee wrote:
mac_guy wrote:
Phineas J. Whoopee wrote:What is the legal form in which each owns 1/2 of the building? Condominium? Something else?
PJW

It is not condominium. I think they each own half of the house outright. Each half has its own address and driveway and yard. They are just connected by a common wall in the middle of house. When any roof work is done, each owner is responsible for their half of the roof.
...

Who decides when to do roof work, what to do, what materials to use, and which contractor to hire? Who does each owner pay?
PJW



The two owners are totally independent of each other. They don't have to get permission. For example, a few years ago, my relative decided to get a new roof. They picked their contractor and shingle style. They contract replace all shingles up to the peak of the roof. They didn't touch anything over the peak. If you look at the homes, you can see that one side of the roof has a slightly different shingle style than the other.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by mac_guy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:39 pm

dm200 wrote:More commonly, I have seen this arrangement called a "duplex" and there is an area of quite a few of these in my neighborhood. I assume this arrangement is the same as a "duplex". As far as I know, ownership of land and "house" is separate. Interesting question. It may depend on the zoning and related matters.



This isn't a duplex, though. It is definitely a twin home. There are big differences. See this explanation:

https://minnrealtors.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/whats-the-difference-between-a-townhome-twin-home-and-a-condo/

A twin-home is basically 2 homes that share a common wall, with 2 separate owners and two yards. The property line runs down the center of the home. You can do what you want with your side of the house and yard…they can have different roofs and be different colors and have different landscape designs.


A duplex is most similar to a twin-home, but its 2 homes that share a wall are on ONE lot and are owned by one person, who has control over the entire 2 homes and yard. Often times the owner lives on one half and rents out the other as an income property.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by ResearchMed » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:47 pm

mac_guy wrote:
dm200 wrote:More commonly, I have seen this arrangement called a "duplex" and there is an area of quite a few of these in my neighborhood. I assume this arrangement is the same as a "duplex". As far as I know, ownership of land and "house" is separate. Interesting question. It may depend on the zoning and related matters.



This isn't a duplex, though. It is definitely a twin home. There are big differences. See this explanation:

https://minnrealtors.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/whats-the-difference-between-a-townhome-twin-home-and-a-condo/

A twin-home is basically 2 homes that share a common wall, with 2 separate owners and two yards. The property line runs down the center of the home. You can do what you want with your side of the house and yard…they can have different roofs and be different colors and have different landscape designs.


A duplex is most similar to a twin-home, but its 2 homes that share a wall are on ONE lot and are owned by one person, who has control over the entire 2 homes and yard. Often times the owner lives on one half and rents out the other as an income property.


If they are "twin homes" with two different lots that are separated by the same line that separates the two units, then... IF one owner doesn't rebuild the same way, wouldn't the remaining "half" have a problem with zoning, with the building right *at* the property line?
And how would they be able to build a proper exterior wall in that case?

RM
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Mudpuppy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:48 pm

mac_guy wrote:
dm200 wrote:More commonly, I have seen this arrangement called a "duplex" and there is an area of quite a few of these in my neighborhood. I assume this arrangement is the same as a "duplex". As far as I know, ownership of land and "house" is separate. Interesting question. It may depend on the zoning and related matters.



This isn't a duplex, though. It is definitely a twin home. There are big differences. See this explanation:

https://minnrealtors.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/whats-the-difference-between-a-townhome-twin-home-and-a-condo/

A twin-home is basically 2 homes that share a common wall, with 2 separate owners and two yards. The property line runs down the center of the home. You can do what you want with your side of the house and yard…they can have different roofs and be different colors and have different landscape designs.


A duplex is most similar to a twin-home, but its 2 homes that share a wall are on ONE lot and are owned by one person, who has control over the entire 2 homes and yard. Often times the owner lives on one half and rents out the other as an income property.

I think most people these days refer to both types of properties as "duplexes". While that may not be as accurate, I have never heard "twin-home" used in the local real estate market, even when the criteria are met (e.g. two separate lots and two separate owners). So if the OP is trying to do some Google searches, using duplex instead of twin-home might yield better results.

But really, the OP should just ask the insurance company what would happen in this scenario. The insurance company has likely dealt with this many times before and could give a more definitive answer than a bunch of folks on the Internet.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by tim1999 » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:50 pm

Here in PA this style of home was built all over the place in the first half of the 1900s. I know of one that completely burned down, they only rebuilt half of it. It just ended up being a very skinny single home, the other side is a vacant lot to this day.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by mac_guy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:52 pm

ResearchMed wrote:
If they are "twin homes" with two different lots that are separated by the same line that separates the two units, then... IF one owner doesn't rebuild the same way, wouldn't the remaining "half" have a problem with zoning, with the building right *at* the property line?
And how would they be able to build a proper exterior wall in that case?

RM


Well, that is the issue. A twin home is not two separate buildings. It is one building. I don't think that one owner could just re-build. I think the owner who does not want to rebuild could control the entire situation. That is what I am concerned about.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Runner01 » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:54 pm

We have a lot of these homes in my area. They are generally older homes as newer ones are condos which I assume clears up some of the legal issues. Some of them look kind of odd as they have different roof materials, different color siding (or one will have original brick while one has vinyl siding), and even different style porches and porch roofs.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by dodecahedron » Sun Sep 11, 2016 4:08 pm

Interesting question! I never heard the term "twin home" but grew up in what you are calling a twin home and my neighborhood was full of them. We called them "rowhouses" (usually there were two mirror image homes, but there were occasional triples.) It was definitely not a condo or townhouse arrangement. My family owned the lot and home on one side of the shared wall and our neighbor owned the lot and home on the other side of the shared wall. There was no HOA or dues or common space. There were never any joint maintenance arrangements unless the owners informally decided to do so. I remember once my parents and the neighbors hired the same guy to paint both halves, but many of our neighbors had wildly disparate styles (e.g., sedate on one half and pyschedelic colors on the other side.) And there were a whole bunch of these in my neighborhood.

Here is a real estate description (which uses the phrase "semidetached") with photos of one of the homes in my old neighborhood which recently sold (for almost a million dollars!):

http://www.longandfoster.com/homes-for- ... -149128484

When my parents bought into this neighborhood in the late 1950s, houses like this were going for less than $20K. They put about $10K of improvements into theirs and sold it for about $30K in 1970. Amazing to see they are now going for a million each. (Though obviously a lot of upgrades to the interiors, based on the photos here.) The homes are over a hundred years old but the developer was apparently quite notable and something of an institution.

You can see from the photos that the owners did not coordinate at all about their choice of exterior color schemes!

Anyway, even though I grew up in a home like this (and later purchased a similar type home in another city), I never thought of the OP's question before! Fortunately none of the homes in either my childhood neighborhood nor the one I bought into as an adult had any fires. (Though once the other unit was struck by lightning and it set off alarms in both homes.)

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by littlebird » Sun Sep 11, 2016 4:17 pm

In New York and its suburbs ( and maybe other older east coast cities) these are called "semi-attached" and are very common. If they're attached to another house on each side they're called "all-attached" or "row houses".

They are owned just like any other house; in fee-simple ownership, just with a zero lot line placement and a common wall shared with another house. The common wall between the two is generally (and now required to be) masonry. Most of the older ones are brick or brick faced all around. There have been many fires affecting such homes and where the location warrants it, the burnt unit is usually quickly re-built. Where it isn't, the inside masonry surface of the burned house becomes the outside surface of the remaining house. This is occasionally seen in less desirable neighborhoods of older east coast cities.

In N.Y. the term "duplex" was (is ?) generally reserved for a two story apartment with an interior stairway.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by ResearchMed » Sun Sep 11, 2016 4:56 pm

dodecahedron wrote:Interesting question! I never heard the term "twin home" but grew up in what you are calling a twin home and my neighborhood was full of them. We called them "rowhouses" (usually there were two mirror image homes, but there were occasional triples.) It was definitely not a condo or townhouse arrangement. My family owned the lot and home on one side of the shared wall and our neighbor owned the lot and home on the other side of the shared wall. There was no HOA or dues or common space. There were never any joint maintenance arrangements unless the owners informally decided to do so. I remember once my parents and the neighbors hired the same guy to paint both halves, but many of our neighbors had wildly disparate styles (e.g., sedate on one half and pyschedelic colors on the other side.) And there were a whole bunch of these in my neighborhood.

Here is a real estate description (which uses the phrase "semidetached") with photos of one of the homes in my old neighborhood which recently sold (for almost a million dollars!):

http://www.longandfoster.com/homes-for- ... -149128484

When my parents bought into this neighborhood in the late 1950s, houses like this were going for less than $20K. They put about $10K of improvements into theirs and sold it for about $30K in 1970. Amazing to see they are now going for a million each. (Though obviously a lot of upgrades to the interiors, based on the photos here.) The homes are over a hundred years old but the developer was apparently quite notable and something of an institution.

You can see from the photos that the owners did not coordinate at all about their choice of exterior color schemes!

Anyway, even though I grew up in a home like this (and later purchased a similar type home in another city), I never thought of the OP's question before! Fortunately none of the homes in either my childhood neighborhood nor the one I bought into as an adult had any fires. (Though once the other unit was struck by lightning and it set off alarms in both homes.)


We also owned one of these, but our street had all three or four family homes (one unit per floor usually), row-house style, almost always running from almost the end of one side of the block to the other end. (We upgraded and converted them to condos after renting them for several years.)
They are all over the metro area, sometimes single family homes, sometimes multifamily including with more than one unit per floor.
They tend to be brick or stone, so the individualized exterior decor wasn't that pronounced, usually front doors, window trim, and the facade just in front of the roof (which is usually flat here).

And we also never thought about this possible problem.

But the row-house style is different. There's not much value in the narrow strip of land that is wedged between two other homes/property lines, with not much open space, other than building another home that is attached on both sides.

With a "two family twin home", there is presumably some extra land on the "outside" of each half.
That would make the land more valuable.
Would the zoning require an attached home again?

RM
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Mudpuppy » Sun Sep 11, 2016 5:17 pm

ResearchMed wrote:With a "two family twin home", there is presumably some extra land on the "outside" of each half.
That would make the land more valuable.
Would the zoning require an attached home again?

That's a very localized question, i.e. it would greatly depend on the local zoning laws. I just checked out the duplexes down the road from me. Each building straddles two lots and each lot is only about 35 feet wide. The lots are zoned as single family residences on small R2 lots, instead of single family residences on standard R1 lots. That means they're intended to be used for "twin-homes"/"duplexes" (my area's zoning laws use duplex/triplex/quadplex, not twin-home), but could potentially be used for stand-alone buildings as long as the setback requirements could be met. But that's my local ordinance. Yours might require twin-homes.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by cheesepep » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:00 pm

I've also known them as duplexes and every person is separate. It one burns down and the owner doesn't want to rebuild, then that is his prerogative. Maybe but his half from him and build yourself.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by SuzBanyan » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:02 pm

At a minimum, I would suggest having a discussion with the insurance agent about including coverage for additional replacement cost based on changes in the law. if the neighbors' failure to rebuild concurrently means that the new home must have a setback, such "compliance with code" coverage may help get your home rebuilt in an acceptable manner.

You might also price out coverage for a rental to live in while you are rebuilding for a longer period of time than is common as reconstruction may be delayed by either the neighbor or the local building authority.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by dodecahedron » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:56 pm

ResearchMed wrote:With a "two family twin home", there is presumably some extra land on the "outside" of each half.
That would make the land more valuable.
Would the zoning require an attached home again?

RM


Well, there was a tiny bit of land between our home and the next pair of twin homes, but not very much, just enough for two walkways and a thin strip of greenery between us. You can see from the real estate link I posted above that the lot size was tiny (0.04 acres!) and yet each of the twins was a pretty substantial house. (There was a family with 13 kids living in ONE of those homes in my neighborhood and it was only minorly crowded there.)

I am not sure that the owner of a half lot with a home that burned down could get permission to do anything other than rebuild their half (unless one owner agreed to buy the other out and build a single replacement home.

It is kind of a wonder especially with all the working (and well-used) fireplaces and old electric systems but I remember zero fires in my neighborhood when I was a kid. In my current affluent suburban single family home neighborhood there have been two devastating fires that have destroyed homes within a block of me (both involving fatalities to the occupants.) I am guessing fireproofing standard were higher when houses were so crowded together in my old neighborhood. Also the homes were brick. The houses in my current single family home neighborhood that burned down had wood siding.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by jbuzolich » Sun Sep 11, 2016 7:11 pm

I think the terms are very regional. Here in northern California I have never heard the term twin home. We have family members though who own multiple duplexes and they can have deeds in multiple different formats. Sometimes both "sides" of the duplex are on one deed so you have two residential addresses but on one deed with a single owner. Other times each side is a separate deed so you potentially could have two or more owners for two residential addresses within a single structure. My family members prefer to own the entire structure regardless of if it is on one deed or two.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by junior » Sun Sep 11, 2016 7:18 pm

mac_guy wrote:Hi. I have a relative who lives in a twin home. This twin home is basically two homes that share a common wall. My relative owns the side of the home they live in. The other side is owned and occupied by someone else. Both sides of the twin home are about 1800 sq feet.

So, I recently helped my relative find a new homeowners insurance policy. As I was looking at the policy, I thought of an important question that I have not be able to find a satisfactory answer for: What would happen if a fire breaks out and the entire home burns down? Assume the damage is so great that both side of the property are destroyed and both owners have a total loss. OK, so in this case, both owners would get compensated by their insurance companies. What would happen if one owner decides they don't want to rebuild?


If there's a mortgage the mortgage company might be able to force them to rebuilt or alternatively would get first dibs up to the mortgage amount on the insurance proceeds.

Beyond that my best guess is the neighbor might not have to rebuild. But you could still rebuild but with a different wall on the one end, you'd just stick on your own side of the property boundaries.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Pajamas » Sun Sep 11, 2016 9:47 pm

Legally the two houses probably share a party wall, jointly owned with a mutual easement. Here is general information about party walls and this particular situation, although local laws may differ:

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictiona ... Party+Wall

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by teen persuasion » Tue Sep 13, 2016 8:31 am

littlebird wrote:In New York and its suburbs ( and maybe other older east coast cities) these are called "semi-attached" and are very common. If they're attached to another house on each side they're called "all-attached" or "row houses".

They are owned just like any other house; in fee-simple ownership, just with a zero lot line placement and a common wall shared with another house. The common wall between the two is generally (and now required to be) masonry. Most of the older ones are brick or brick faced all around. There have been many fires affecting such homes and where the location warrants it, the burnt unit is usually quickly re-built. Where it isn't, the inside masonry surface of the burned house becomes the outside surface of the remaining house. This is occasionally seen in less desirable neighborhoods of older east coast cities.

In N.Y. the term "duplex" was (is ?) generally reserved for a two story apartment with an interior stairway.


I'm guessing you mean NYC, not NYS. In WNY duplex generally means a side-by-side 2 family house sharing a common wall. A two story home with upper and lower apartments and interior stairway is referred to as a double, triple if 3 stories/apartments.

ETA: our first apartment was on a corner, and had a common wall between the 2 sides. Each side had a different street address due to the corner. There were 2 stories, so there was an upper and lower apartment in each side, with separate entrances on each street. Very unusual for the region.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Meg77 » Tue Sep 13, 2016 3:10 pm

I own a few duplexes, so this is very interesting to me. Two of my duplexes are one property - one tax value, one water meter, but two units - but the other two are platted separately. I get 2 tax bills and can sell half the property without selling the other half, technically speaking.

Practically speaking, if the whole thing burned down and one party wanted to sell while the other didn't, the one who wants to rebuild would probably have to buy out the other and foot the cost of the whole new construction. Upon completion your relative could just rent out the other side, or sell it to a new owner.

If they couldn't agree on a price then a lawsuit would probably ensue because the one who wants to move will have trouble finding a buyer to buy one half of an unbuilt twin home. So both parties would be stuck and forced to compromise. However the easiest thing to do might just be for both parties to agree to sell the lot(s) to a developer, pocket the insurance money and find somewhere else to live.

Edited to add - the bigger problem would be what to do if the house is simply damaged and one party can't afford to fix it or won't cooperate or doesn't have insurance. My husband and I passed on a town home we loved because we found out there was no HOA to mediate such matters. So your attached neighbor could paint the house lime green or bang through your wall and refuse to fix it or any number of things, leaving you stuck with a dramatically depreciated home value and little recourse besides suing (which isn't worth much if the neighbors have no money).
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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by curmudgeon » Tue Sep 13, 2016 4:43 pm

The general term I am familiar with when the land ownership is is separate, is "zero lot line" SFR. At least in CA, these are different than townhomes (which may still have specific land ownership, but have stronger HOA bonds among the ownership group). Given land prices in Silicon Valley, you get a lot of different variations on these themes in new developments here. They exist under various specific zoning rules and deed covenants, and it would take some careful reading to fully understand how these would apply in any specific case.

I have never wanted to own one of these types of houses, so I've never looked to deeply into the details, but I could certainly see the potential that deed covenenants would require you to rebuild to the same ground footprint as the old house. And if you left the place unrepaired long enough, the city would declare it a public nuisance and knock it down for you (putting a lien on the land in the process). If the owners don't cooperate in the rebuilding, the first would just rebuild with the same blank common wall in between, probably required by the zoning rules. They would have to ensure that there is no shared roofing invloved; not sure if that is something that would have been required in the original design or not. It could be a bit messier when you have "row houses" that might have a higher degree of interconnectedness or structural dependency, but dealing with this has been common in cities for hundreds of years.

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Re: Twin home burns down and one owner won't rebuild. What happens?

Post by Longdog » Tue Sep 13, 2016 4:57 pm

I looked into this once on a single family home, and learned that the homeowners insurance will not pay out unless the home is rebuilt, unlike car insurance which might give a payout for a car damaged or totalled in an auto accident, without requiring the car to be repaired or a new one purchased.

YMMV but that's what I found out in my situation.
Steve

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