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With rental reforms stalled in the legislature, Wolf announces a workaround

Bucks County
Solebury officials review 2021 budget needs

Chester County
Kennett Township starts budget talks

Delaware County
Upper Darby leaders unresponsive as residents and Realtors® struggle with broken U&O system

Montgomery County
Norristown mandates local sewer authority be conveyed to municipality

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia Inquirer series: Pennsylvania tenants’ rights guide

 

Blog

Thursday, December 5, 2019

2019 Annual Report

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)

 

Read our 2019 Annual Report below.  Click the icon in the center to make it full-screen.

 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Borough of Glenolden Amends Illegal Property Inspection Ordinance

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

GLENOLDEN, Pa. — Glenolden Borough Council voted Nov. 19 to bring the municipality’s use and occupancy ordinance into compliance with state law. The move comes as a direct result of a federal lawsuit brought by the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance over the borough’s abusive and illegal point-of-sale property inspection practices.

The borough council voted to repeal Chapter 61 of the borough code, titled “Certificate of Occupancy,” and replace it with a new version. The repealed version violated Act 133 of 2016, which amended the state’s Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA) and changed the way local governments issue occupancy permits to homeowners. 

“Glenolden is finally doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, it took us asking them repeatedly for three years, then filing a federal lawsuit to get to this point,” said Jamie Ridge, president and CEO of the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance (SRA).

“The borough made up its own rules, then broke them,” Ridge said.  

Roughly half of the municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs require point-of-sale inspections for property transfers. Act 133 mandates that after such an inspection, the municipality must issue a use and occupancy certificate — or a temporary access permit in the case of an unsafe property — and provide no less than 12 months for repairs to be made. Act 133 also states that the municipality cannot require escrowing funds in return for the issuance of a use and occupancy certificate.

After MCOCA was amended in 2016, most municipalities updated their ordinances and procedures to comply, but a handful of outliers, including Glenolden, have retained illegal ordinances and inspection practices.  The SRA’s intent is to have these municipalities replace their illegal ordinances with MCOCA, as Glenolden now has done.

Read the Delco Times coverage:

Glenolden updates code in wake of lawsuit (Dec. 3)

Suit claims Glenolden ordinance violates state law (Oct. 17)

“The updated ordinance is great news for Glenolden residents and Realtors®, but it doesn’t change the fact that the borough has violated people’s rights for years,” Ridge said. “Our lawsuit continues.”

The SRA filed a federal lawsuit against Glenolden Borough in July 2019 for its failure to abide by MCOCA. The Alliance’s co-plaintiff in the suit, Mohammed Rahman, recently sold a property in the borough and was subjected to enforcement of unconstitutional ordinances.

Mr. Rahman was required to provide $5,000 in escrow while he made repairs, which is explicitly prohibited by MCOCA. The borough demanded that he complete all repairs within 30 days of settlement — another clear MCOCA violation. And though he completed the repairs within the arbitrary time frame, he was still fined more than $1,200 for not having a use and occupancy certificate at the time of settlement.

“The borough made up its own rules, then broke them,” Ridge said. “You can bet we’ll be watching closely to make sure Glenolden sticks to the law it just enacted so that its residents get the benefit of the new ordinance.”


About Act 133 of 2016 and MCOCA

Act 133 of 2016 is a Pennsylvania law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf that changed the way local governments issue occupancy permits to homeowners. The act amended the Municipal Code & Ordinance Compliance Act, which was passed in 2000. Act 133 was expressly designed to allow property transactions to proceed without compromising safety. The amended law allows code inspectors to issue three kinds of permits after a use and occupancy (U&O) inspection has been performed: 1) a full U&O certificate; 2) a temporary U&O certificate for minor violations, which must be fixed within 12 months; and 3) a temporary access permit, which allow buyers of unsafe homes to make necessary repairs but not move in until an inspector approves. For more information, visit www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/act133.

About Suburban Realtors® Alliance

The Suburban Realtors® Alliance is a subsidiary of the three largest local Realtor® associations in Pennsylvania: the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West associations of Realtors®. Between its three shareholder associations, the Alliance serves more than 12,000 members. For more information, visit www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

 

See Also:  SRA Sues Borough of Glenolden for Violating Homeowners’ Rights  (SRA press release 10/15/2019)

 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

SRA Sues Borough of Glenolden for Violating Homeowners’ Rights

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 3:00:00 pm Comments (5)

October 15, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: 610-981-9000, sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com

GLENOLDEN, Pa. – The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance has filed a federal lawsuit against the Borough of Glenolden for refusing to issue residential use and occupancy certificates after municipal code inspections in accordance with state law.

The Alliance’s co-plaintiff in the suit, Mohammed Rahman, recently sold a property in the borough and was subjected to the enforcement of unconstitutional ordinances that violate the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA).

“Not only did Glenolden Borough ignore state law and impose unconstitutional conditions on the transfer of his property, the borough also extracted from Mr. Rahman more than $1,200 in fines and has forced him to defend himself against criminal charges,” said Jamie Ridge, president and CEO of the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance. “Glenolden denied him a use and occupancy permit to which he was entitled, then levied criminal sanctions against him for his failure to have the permit. It's ridiculous, arbitrary and wrong.”

See also:

Borough of Glenolden Amends Illegal Property Inspection Ordinance 
(SRA Press Release, Dec. 4, 2019)

Among the unconstitutional conditions that the borough imposed on Mr. Rahman were requiring that he post a $5,000 escrow in return for the issuance of a use and occupancy permit, and requiring that code inspection repairs be made within 30 days, both of which are prohibited by MCOCA.

“Mr. Rahman is just one example of how Glenolden’s outdated ordinances and bullying enforcement tactics continue to stifle the ability of residents and Realtors® to engage in the transfer of private property,” Ridge said.

The lawsuit seeks to have Chapter 61 of Glenolden’s code of ordinances, titled “Certificates of Occupancy,” declared unconstitutional and to stop enforcement techniques that violate MCOCA.  Right now, the borough ordinances require that a property be brought into full compliance before the borough will issue a use and occupancy permit and allow the property to be sold. Such a restriction violates MCOCA, as amended by Act 133 of 2016, which states municipalities must issue a use and occupancy certificate after an inspection — or a temporary access permit in the case of an unsafe property — and provide no less than 12 months for repairs to be made.

Mr. Rahman acceded to a borough demand that he complete all repairs within 30 days of settlement, though he was under no legal obligation to do so. He completed the repairs within 30 days, but he was still fined more than $1,200 for not having a use and occupancy certificate at the time of settlement. The borough also held $5,000 from Mr. Rahman in escrow during the repairs — a practice explicitly prohibited by MCOCA.

Glenolden Borough took these actions despite its officials knowing their demands violated Pennsylvania law.

“We have asked the borough for the past two years to bring its ordinances and enforcement practices in line with state law, but they have chosen to ignore it,” Ridge said. “The extent to which the borough officer’s intentional actions have harmed Rahman and other property owners and wasted the borough’s resources is undetermined at this time.”

The lawsuit — Mohammad Z. Rahman and Suburban Realtors Alliance v. Borough of Glenolden, et al — was filed July 24, 2019 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Several borough officials are specifically named as defendants: Kenneth Pfaff, council president; James Boothby, council vice-president; Brian Razzi, borough manager; and Anthony Tartaglia, chief of code enforcement. The plaintiffs are represented by Connor, Weber & Oberlies, based in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

As a part of the lawsuit, Rahman is seeking relief from the criminal sanctions and compensation for the borough’s intentional violation of the rights that should have been afforded to him under MCOCA.  The SRA has joined Rahman in the lawsuit to bring to light the borough’s unconstitutional ordinances and to force the borough to incorporate MCOCA’s rights and protections for property owners and Realtors® into the borough’s ordinances. 

Although the lawsuit is still ongoing, through a sworn affidavit of Michael Puppio, the borough Solicitor, the borough has represented that it “intends to repeal its existing ordinances and to enact new ordinances consistent with MCOCA.”  Under Pennsylvania law, the borough must advertise its new ordinance provisions at least seven days prior to the borough council voting to enact the new provisions. 

Roughly half of the municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs require point-of-sale inspections for property transfers, and most of them have updated their ordinances and practices to comply with MCOCA. Glenolden is one example of the municipalities who maintain ordinances and procedures in contravention of MCOCA.

 

About Act 133 of 2016 and MCOCA

Act 133 of 2016 is a Pennsylvania law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf that changed the way local governments issue occupancy permits to homeowners. The act amended the Municipal Code & Ordinance Compliance Act, which was passed in 2000. Act 133 was expressly designed to allow property transactions to proceed without compromising safety. The amended law allows code inspectors to issue three kinds of permits after a use and occupancy (U&O) inspection has been performed: 1) a full U&O certificate; 2) a temporary U&O certificate for minor violations, which must be fixed within 12 months; and 3) a temporary access permit, which allow buyers of unsafe homes to make necessary repairs but not move in until an inspector approves. For more information, visit www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/act133.

About Suburban Realtors® Alliance

The Suburban Realtors® Alliance is a subsidiary of the three largest local Realtor® associations in Pennsylvania: the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West associations of Realtors®. Between its three shareholder associations, the Alliance serves more than 12,000 members. For more information, visit www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

 

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[View a PDF Version of this press release]

Friday, July 26, 2019

What is an accurate property assessment?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, July 26, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Ideally, homes are assessed at 100% of their market values. That’s what happens immediately after a countywide reassessment.

But assessment values become inaccurate over time as the real estate market changes. To keep new assessments in line with old ones, the PA Department of Revenue sets a Common Level Ratio factors for each county every July.  

For example, Montgomery County has 2019-2020 ratio factor of 2.03, meaning assessments should equal 49.3% of market value.  So, a home with a market value of $100,000 would be assessed at about $49,300, and that assessed value would be used to calculate local property tax bills.

Here’s the math behind that percentage:

Assessment
_______________

Market Value


   =   

1
______________

2.03
(Common Level Ratio factor)


   =   


    49.3%  

Here are the Common Level Ratios and assessment value percentages for Greater Philadelphia counties:

9.4%
Bucks County
Common Level Ratio factor = 10.64
Last assessment in 1972
49.3%
Chester County
Common Level Ratio factor = 2.03
Last assessment in 1998
56.5%
Delaware County*
Common Level Ratio factor = 1.77
Last assessment in 2000
49.3%
Montgomery County
Common Level Ratio factor = 2.03
Last assessment in 1996
99%
Philadelphia County
Common Level Ratio factor = 1.01
Ongoing assessments (AVI)
 

This recent Philadelphia Inquirer article provides more explanation on assessments and appeals in the Greater Philadelphia region.

 * Delaware County is currently conducting a countywide reassessment, the values of which will take effect in 2021. Learn more about that in our blog post:  Delco reassessment project: an overview.

 

 

Friday, June 28, 2019

A disturbing trend is emerging around U&O inspections

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, June 28, 2019 at 9:00:00 am Comments (1)

A trend is emerging among some municipal code inspectors in the Philadelphia suburbs — they're asking home buyers to sign away their rights. 

Per state law, buyers have at least 12 months to make repairs cited in a use-and-occupancy inspection. But Downingtown Borough, for example, has a “U&O Waiver Form” on its website in which buyers agree that, "I will make all repairs [within] 30 days of the closing of the sale.” These 30-day affidavits are popping up in municipalities across the region.

Considering the power these municipalities hold and what's at stake — a new home — buyers and agents may be inclined to sign the form to keep transactions on track.

But the bottom line is that these towns and boroughs cannot force the buyers to sign, and they cannot withhold a U&O certificate as leverage. The Alliance has been addressing these situations on a case-by-case basis while working toward setting a legal precedent that would force these municipalities to obey the spirit of the law, not just the letter.

If your clients are being asked to sign such an affidavit, please contact the Suburban Realtors® Alliance.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bristol Twp sewer lateral inspections: What's been your experience?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, April 22, 2019 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

 We are seeking input from BCAR members regarding the recently introduced sewer lateral inspection requirement in Bristol Township.

As our members may be aware, the SRA has met several times with Bristol Township staff and council members to ensure that the new inspection requirements are compliant with PA Act 133 of 2016. The act sets forth procedures that must be followed by municipalities that require property maintenance and other code inspections upon the sale of a residential property.

Please contact the SRA if any of the following apply:

  1. Your client is being denied a U&O permit or a temporary access permit. The municipality must provide one of these as long as a required code inspection has been completed.
  2. Your client is being asked to provide escrow toward repairs on the home prior to the sale, as a condition of receiving a temporary U&O permit.
  3. A municipal official tells you that Act 133 does not apply to them for any reason.

Realtors can reach the SRA via our online Contact Us form or by email: sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. 

 

 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Delco reassessment project: an overview

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 2:00:00 pm Comments (0)

The reference sheet below answers a few questions about the Delaware County Reassessment Project, and provides links to other resources like a sample of the questionnaire property owners may receive in the mail.

Click the image below to view the PDF file.

[Note: PDF updated 2/10/2020]

 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Why is a Delco school district suing the state?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

In 2014, William Penn School District in Delaware County joined with other districts, associations and parents to file William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al. They argue that the state is failing in its constitutional duty to provide adequate public education and is discriminating against students based on geography.

In fact, Pennsylvania does have a reputation for unfair education funding. In 2015, a Washington Post analysis declared, “Pa. schools are the nation’s most inequitable.” In 2016, the General Assembly tried to address the problem by enacting a new Fair Funding Formula, which was designed to equitably distribute Basic Education Funding to all districts in the state by taking into account factors like the poverty level, number of non-English speakers and charter schools.

However, only money added since the Fair Funding Formula was put into place is distributed through it. In the 2018-2019 school year, that’s $539 million out of $6.1 billion — less than 9 percent.

What would happen if all of the $6.1 billion was put through the Fair Funding Formula?

William Penn would receive an additional $2.92 million dollars, about $530 more for each of its roughly 5,500 students, according to a 2018 report by the House Appropriations Committee.

In Delaware County, 12 of the 15 districts would receive more money. Upper Darby would receive an additional $16.2 million per year over its current state allocation of $38.6 million.   

In Chester County, 7 of the 12 districts would see a boost. Phoenixville Area School District would receive an additional $2.7 million per year over its current state allocation of $4.9 million.

In Bucks County, 6 out of 13 counties would receive more money. In the 2018-2019 school year, Bensalem Township School District would receive an additional $6.8 million per year over its current allocation of $12.8 million.

In Montgomery County, 18 out of 22 school districts would receive more money. In the 2018-2019 school year, Pottstown School District would receive an additional $13 million per year — more than doubling its current allocation of $11.5 million.

The corresponding losses would be felt by districts who are benefiting from a “hold-harmless” provision that allows them to maintain previous funding levels despite falling enrollment.

State funding is important for districts like those listed above, where a low tax base means raising tax rates wouldn’t yield much increased revenue. The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in 2020, and it could result in major changes in state education funding.

Read more about Pennsylvania public education funding at www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/schools

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