NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Teams legislation introduced

Bucks County
Central Bucks $342 million budget holds the line on taxes

Chester County
Smart growth topic of June 20 forum

Delaware County
Delco puts spotlight on opportunity zones

Montgomery County
Lansdale council discusses alleys

Philadelphia County
Philly to increase homestead exemption to $45,000
 

 

News Briefs Archive January 28, 2019

 

General News

New rental tax worries some NJ shore renters, homeowners
A new tax in New Jersey on short-term lodging is rattling some property owners and renters who worry that it could deal a blow to the state’s multi-billion-dollar shore tourism industry by pushing people to consider other destinations. Gov. Phil Murphy proposed extending the state’s sales and occupancy tax to transient accommodations like Airbnb and VRBO rentals during last year’s budget process, and it flew largely under the radar as Murphy and the legislature scrapped over bigger taxes such as income taxes and corporate business rates. But since the 11.625 percent tax — higher in some towns that have their own fees — went into effect late last year, a group of property owners, some from Pennsylvania and New York, have taken their concerns to lawmakers. The issue is rising to the surface now in particular because many shore rentals are locked up in January. The new tax law requires property owners who let out their homes, including vacation properties, to collect the tax from short-term renters. Murphy’s administration defended the tax as a way to “level the playing field” between hotels, motels and transient accommodations done through online marketplaces like Airbnb. The administration also pointed out that the law offers short-term renters a way around the tax, since transactions through real estate agents are exempt from the tax.
Source: Daily Times; 1/20/2019

Suburban office sales strong
According to Real Capital Analytics, office sales in 2018 in suburban Philadelphia totaled $863.6 million, more than double the $447.4 million spent to buy office buildings in Philadelphia’s Central Business District. Data from 2017 showed the suburban office market gaining on the city with $929 million spent in the CBD, compared with $864 million in the suburbs. Three suburban markets accounted for $777 million in 2018 sales – King of Prussia, Malvern and Conshohocken. JLL data show the average price per square-foot also improved from $173 a square foot to $180 a square foot. Other data trends point to the makeup of buyers, with 55.5 percent of those acquiring properties in the suburbs being private entities while 35.5 percent were funds. Also notable is that foreign capital accounted for 40 percent of the money deployed for acquisitions in the region.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 1/18/2019

What the government shutdown means for Realtors®
The federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 21, 2018, due to a budget impasse between the president and Congress. This partial shutdown includes some federal housing, mortgage and other programs of interest to the real estate industry. A summary of the impact on selected agencies is provided on the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) website. NAR staff continues to monitor federal agencies and work with Congress, the administration and other groups to assess ongoing impacts to NAR members and their businesses.
Source: Nar.realtor; 1/8/2019

Bucks County

Yardley Borough secures Community Rating System status, NFIP discount
Yardley Borough recently announced that the borough has achieved Community Rating System (CRS) status. Borough residents living in the floodplain and covered by a National Flood Insurance Program-backed policy will see a five percent reduction in the cost of their premiums beginning in May. CRS is a voluntary incentive program under the NFIP that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed minimum NFIP requirements. As part of the process, the borough created a floodplain development procedure, which will be coming before council for approval in the near future.
Source: The Advance of Bucks County; 1/13/2019

Taxes steady in Tinicum
Tinicum Township supervisors adopted a no-tax increase budget for 2019. The township real estate tax rate will remain at 8.5 mills, including 1.5 mills for fire protection, 0.5 mills for EMS, and 0.5 mills for open space preservation. Also holding steady is the Earned Income Tax at 0.75 percent. Township Manager Teri Lewis pointed out that the Public Works Department made innovative vehicle replacement efforts that saved the township an estimated $100,000 by avoiding the purchase of a new vehicle and extending service life for another.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/16/2019

Council Rock to seek Act 1 exceptions
Council Rock School Board members agreed to have administrators apply to the state for pension and special education exceptions that would allow the district to raise taxes higher than the 2.3 percent Act 1 Index maximum set for the district in 2019-2020. Although the district’s business director Robert Reinhart recommended applying for the exceptions, he emphasized that the board may not need to use them and will work to keep any tax increase as low as possible. Reinhart will retire March 14 but will work on the budget with the district’s next business administrator, William Stone, for several weeks. A 2.3 percent tax increase would raise the millage rate by 2.843 mills and amount to a tax increase of about $109 for the owner of a property assessed at the district average of about $38,000. The maximum millage increase if all exceptions are granted would be 3.867 mills, or about $148 more in taxes for the owner of the average assessed property. The current total property tax millage for Council Rock is 123.607. The district raised taxes for the 2018-2019 school year by 2.4 percent, an increase of about $112.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/28/2018

Newtown Borough preserves historic land
Newtown Borough Council voted unanimously to purchase an open lot behind the historic Bird in Hand property at 112 Court St. for preservation and open space purposes. The property is located in the Court Street neighborhood and is the site of the only Revolutionary War skirmish in Newtown — a 1778 Loyalist raid on the Bird in Hand Tavern where tailors were making uniforms for the troops at Valley Forge. The land is also part of the last remaining lot of the original six squares of property that comprised the layout of Newtown by William Penn. The borough will look into grant opportunities to help fund the purchase, estimated to cost $410,000.
Source: The Advance of Bucks County; 1/20/2019

Chester County 

Oxford school directors vote to limit tax increase
The Oxford Area School Board committed the district to a balanced budget for the 2019-2020 school year while limiting any possible tax increase to no more than 3.2 percent. The resolution was made to comply with the state’s Act 1 legislation, which limits school district tax increases according to an index set each year by the PA Department of Education. If a district feels it must increase taxes more than this number, it must seek an exception by putting the question to a voter referendum. The district’s budget is not expected to be complete for a vote until May. This vote does not mean that the district will seek the full 3.2% increase, or any increase. The board also recently passed a resolution authorizing the administration to work toward a new $5 million bond issue to be used toward refinancing a current series of outstanding bonds issued in 2013. The district will only go forward with the new bond issue if interest rates generate a savings for the district by refinancing.
Source: Daily Local; 1/20/2019

$2M garage expansion in Kennett Square may be done by year's end
Construction to expand a public parking garage in downtown Kennett Square will likely begin by the end of the year. Joe Scalise, borough manager, said he met with design consultants, and a bid package will go out in January. The expansion of the parking garage, located at East Linden and North Union streets, will add 92 parking spaces to the existing 350 parking spaces available now. The funding is already in place, and none of it will come from Kennett Square taxpayers. Borough officials received a $500,000 grant from the county, and $750,000 from the state. The remaining portion will come from the borough’s parking fund, which Scalise said is self-sustaining. To make room for the parking garage expansion, the borough will demolish the long-vacant District Justice Center, on the corner of East Linden and Broad streets. The brick façade of the new structure will closely match the existing one. Demand is high for new parking, in part because the borough’s population has spiked in the past decade as the town has experienced resurgence. Population has increased 20 percent in Kennett Square since 2000. 
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 1/10/2019 

Meetings planned for 22-mile Brandywine water trail
As part of the Brandywine Creek Greenway initiative, the Brandywine Conservancy and Chester County Planning Commission are studying the feasibility of a Brandywine Water Trail — a formalized route along the waterway for recreational use, enhanced by connections to land trails. Once complete, the Brandywine Water Trail will be a 22-mile bi-state water route that connects communities to the creek in Pennsylvania and Delaware, improving access to the waterway for increased recreational and educational use, while also protecting and enhancing the natural, scenic, cultural and historic resources along the river. The feasibility study will focus on the east and west branches of the Brandywine starting from Coatesville and Downingtown, to Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware. Two public meetings are scheduled to collect community input on multiple topics: routes that are currently used; areas that are unsafe and need improvement; areas where additional access would be helpful; and opportunities for stewardship and education. The first public meeting will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Downingtown Borough Annex (4 West Lancaster Ave., Downingtown). The second public meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Brandywine River Museum of Art (1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford). Both meetings will be held open house style and attendees can arrive at any time during the two-hour window. Families are welcome to attend, and light refreshments will be provided. Registration is requested at www.brandywine.org/events; there is no cost to register.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 1/23/2019

Coatesville Area School District to hold hearing on charter school proposal 
The Coatesville Area School Board has scheduled a public hearing regarding an application proposing the establishment of the Coatesville Charter School of Innovation. The hearing will be held on Monday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at the Coatesville Area Senior High School, 1445 E. Lincoln Highway, Coatesville.
Source: Daily Local; 1/18/2019

Pipeline safety forum in West Chester is open to public
An upcoming public forum will allow residents to ask lawmakers questions regarding the ongoing pipeline issue in Chester County. The latest session comes amid renewed safety concerns regarding Sunoco's operations in the county. A new sinkhole opened up in West Whiteland Township over the weekend along Mariner East 1, spurring a shutdown of the pipeline. The event, co-hosted by state Sen. Tom Killion (R-168) and state Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-156), will be held on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. at Fugett Middle School's auditorium, 500 Ellis Lane, West Chester. Representatives from numerous agencies will be on hand, including the state Public Utilities Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Source: West Chester Patch, 1/23/2019

Delaware County

Haverford purchasing Brookline School, plans demolition
The Haverford Board of Commissioners has begun the process to take ownership of the former Brookline School on Earlington Road from the Haverford Township School District. Commissioners voted to begin the process of purchasing the property for $1. The building, which was built in 1913, has not been used as a public school for years. It presently houses Family and Support Services and Surrey Services for Seniors. “We want to keep [Brookline] as either open space or some other use; we are considering a number of options,” said Commissioner William Wechsler. “The school district doesn’t have a need for it.” Upon inspecting the building, township engineers found that it significantly deteriorated and would not be worth the cost of repairs. Officials wanted to keep the property from possibly falling into the hand of a developer or another institution.
Source: Daily Times; 1/19/2019

Clifton Heights lauds crackdown by new building inspector
Clifton Heights code inspection department issued 707 non-traffic citations and the borough collected $288,129 in fees and fines from April 11 through Dec. 31, 2018, according to an update given to borough council by code enforcement officer John Gould. “The vacant property registration ordinance resulted in $4,080 in registration fees, provided vital contact information and identified responsible parties for vacant properties,” Gould said. Code enforcement officers issued 329 tickets for property maintenance violations resulting in increased compliance and fees. Gould reported the total collected by the department is almost double what was collected the previous year.
Source: Daily Times; 1/17/2019

Upper Darby resident complains of ‘exit tax’
Sid Feldman lived in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby for 35 years and told officials that when he recently sold his house he was saddened at what he called “an exit tax.” He also complained of falling property values, saying he valued his house at more than $700,000, but sold it for $260,000 Feldman said: “Then an exit tax was imposed upon me, imposed by License and Inspections for sidewalks. Any crack, any place, I’m required to fix it... [My sidewalk] has not been checked over the years. And now I have to put a concrete apron on the driveway. I have to pay $4,000 to get out of town.” Council President Donald Bonnett informed Feldman that a sidewalk inspection when a house is sold is a fairly ordinary occurrence. “It’s been required for ages,” Bonnett said. 
Source: Daily Times; 1/22/2019

Delaware County’s property tax reassessment process continues
In March 2017, Delaware County was ordered by a county court to conduct a comprehensive property tax reassessment, effective for the 2021 tax year. Delaware County Council contracted with Tyler Technologies Inc. in 2017 to provide real property appraisal services for the county’s 2020 general reassessment. The project will utilize Tyler’s appraisal and street imaging services. Tyler staff will be in Delaware County throughout the reassessment process, concluding in 2020. During the duration of the project, Tyler will be in communication with the county, providing county and municipal officials, and local law enforcement updates on current collection locations and expected duration. Delaware County has set up a website dedicated to educating residents and answering questions regarding the tax reassessment project: http://delcorealestate.co.delaware.pa.us/delcoreassessment. A Reassessment Hotline has also been set up for residents to call with any questions or concerns: 610-891-5695.
Source: Delaware County; 1/4/2019

Montgomery County

Pottstown considers reopening former Edgewood Elementary building
The Pottstown school board and administrators are considering using the former Edgewood Elementary School building as a fifth-grade center. Fifth-grade students were moved into the middle school after a 2012 plan closed Edgewood and renovated the districts four other elementary schools. Fifth-graders relocated to the middle school because there was room there, a move that district administrators and teachers agree was a mistake that must be undone. School board member Thomas Hylton said no change would be made before the 2020-2021 school year. Board members agreed that efforts to involve the public and teachers should be made, and they tasked Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez with setting up dates for public input meetings, to be held at the Edgewood building. Visit the district website for upcoming meeting information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/23/2019

Community group: Westover Golf Course developer suing homeowners
West Norriton property owners bordering the Westover Golf Course were recently served with a lawsuit by attorneys for the owners of the course, VRJ Associates, according to a community group called West Norriton United. In the suit, VRJ seeks relief from the covenant that confirms the recreational zoning of the golf course and prohibits any further development of the golf course property, the community group said in a public letter. The covenant was signed when VRJ built the Greens Condominiums at the site many years ago. VRJ contends that a 7.6-acre site within the golf course property — an area known as the “Doughnut Hole” and including the banquet hall, restaurant and golf shop, along with the driveway and parking lots — is not recreational space. VRJ is seeking to have the “Doughnut Hole” exempted from both the covenant and the current recreational zoning in order to build high-density townhouses on the site. To that end, VRJ is suing property owners bordering the golf course because those owners can prohibit any development that violates the covenant, West Norriton United said.
Source: Times Herald; 1/22/2019

Plymouth Township amends solicitation ordinance
Plymouth Township supervisors recently approved an amended solicitation ordinance that brings the ordinance into compliance with the current state of the law, according to township solicitor Mike Clarke. The updated ordinance defines solicitors as: peddlers (a person who carries his wares with him), an itinerant merchant (any person or business entity engaging in business as a merchant for a period of time not to exceed 90 days), a hawker (any person soliciting orders for or selling goods from residence to residence who is not an itinerant merchant, solicitor or peddler), and a canvasser (someone who goes door-to-door conducting surveys for research purposes, opinion polls, seeking contributions for an organization or cause, or advancing a nonprofit, political or religious organization.) The ordinance also requires solicitors to apply for a license and sets forth penalties for violations, including visiting residences with posted “no soliciting” signs. Residents wishing to be added to the township’s no solicitation registry can contact the Plymouth Township Police.
Source: Times Herald; 1/18/2019

Upper Merion to create Township Manager Search Committee
Upper Merion supervisors are seeking applications from township residents to fill three seats on a Township Manager Search Committee. Applicants’ letters of interest must be received on or before Thursday, Jan. 31. Click here to learn more and apply.
Source: Upper Merion Township; 1/18/2019

Philadelphia

Thieves, forgers take houses from deceased in ‘hot’ neighborhoods
The homes of deceased residents in some gentrifying neighborhoods are ending up in the hands of strangers. If city records are to be believed, individuals who have died or whose family members have disavowed the acquisitions have walked into notary public offices and signed away their homes. The transactions exemplify an especially virulent problem in Philadelphia: the outright theft of homes in gentrifying areas where property values are rising. Grifters scour public rolls for properties behind in taxes or mortgage payments or simply held for decades by a single owner. Sometimes neighborhood gossip is enough to turn up a house all but abandoned by its owner. Once the mark is settled on, a deed is forged, sometimes with the aid of a compliant notary, and ownership is transferred to the thief. The property is then flipped for a quick score. Despite efforts to crack down on the practice, the city deeds office keeps approving bogus sales. While a person submitting a deed is asked to provide identification and be photographed, little more is done to check on the veracity of transactions they are recording. Philadelphia officials have been struggling for years to get a grip on deed fraud. For more than a decade, the city has been alerting homeowners by mail whenever a deed selling their properties is processed. Here are some key resources if you have become a victim of house theft:

  • Philadelphia Records Department, which oversees the filling of deeds: 215-686-2261, info@phila.gov
  • District Attorney’s Office, Economic Crimes Unit: 215-686-9902
  • Philadelphia Police recommend calling 911 to report a house theft
  • Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office: 215-686-3530
  • Save Your Home Philly Hotline: 215-334-HOME (4663). Hotline provides legal help to low-income homeowners
  • Philadelphia Bar Association: 215-238-6333 or LRIS.PhiladelpiaBar.org
  • Community Legal Services: walk-ins at 1410 W. Erie Ave., Monday, Wednesday or Friday mornings, or call 215-227-2400. More information can be found at clsphila.org.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer: 1/23/2019

Watered-down 'good cause’ eviction bill is now Philly law
A Philadelphia bill signed into law will offer some protections to month-to-month renters in Philadelphia from discriminatory or vindictive evictions. The bill, which city council passed in December, amends the Fair Housing Ordinance to require landlords to have a good reason for evicting someone with a lease lasting less than one year. As originally proposed, the bill covered all leases, but building owners and landlord associations said that put unfair burdens on landlords that could dissuade them from renting and infringed on their ability to run their business. “Any law that says a landlord has to have a good reason for evicting somebody is a major step forward,” said Phil Lord, managing attorney for the Tenant Union Rights Network (TURN). “Now they have to disclose, and if it’s a bad reason, like discrimination, then they have to come up with a lie, and if they’re not good at that, they won’t try.” Other “good causes” include nonpayment of rent, breach of the lease, damage to property, nuisance behavior, and refusal to allow the landlord to make repairs or to sign a revised lease. A landlord can also evict someone if the intent is to rent the unit to an immediate family member. To terminate for good cause, a landlord must give the tenant 30 days' notice or the lease will automatically renew for another month. It’s meant to protect people from being evicted for complaining about needed repairs or reporting a landlord to the city, as often happens, said Rue Landau, executive director of the Fair Housing Commission. The bill could also expose instances when a landlord tries to evict someone for reasons that violate Fair Housing laws. The bill will go into effect Monday, April 22.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/23/2018


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