NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
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

 

News Briefs Archive July 13, 2020

 

General News

Wolf extends eviction and foreclosure moratorium through Aug. 31
Gov. Tom Wolf extended the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium through Aug. 31. It had previously been set to end on July 10. “I am taking this action to help families know they will have a roof over their heads and a place to live while all of us fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement. The move gives some breathing room for renters who were seeking assistance through a new statewide program that just began accepting applications on July 6. The program, administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) has $150 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding designated to provide relief for renters whose finances have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but its rollout has been rocky, as many applicants were confused about the paperwork they had to provide, and application forms in Spanish were not yet available. The state legislature also set aside $25 million in CARES Act funding for mortgage relief. Since mid-March, evictions have been off the table in Pennsylvania. A statewide judicial state of emergency issued by the state Supreme Court temporarily forbade landlords from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent. Officials had been preparing for a potential flood of evictions when the moratorium ended. According to Princeton’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions in select cities, evictions in Pittsburgh fell from more than 1,000 a month in January and February to zero in April, the height of the pandemic. There was a slight increase last month, as Wolf’s order allowed for old evictions over, for example, property damage, to begin again. A federal eviction moratorium as part of the CARES Act also remains in place until the end of July, but affects only properties that have any tie to the federal government. That includes landlords with Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae mortgage loans, and landlords who accept federal money for Section 8 housing. There is a measure under consideration in Congress that would extend the federal ban on evictions, but it is unclear whether that bill will pass and how much impact it would have. 
Source: Spotlight PA; 7/9/2020; Capital-Star; 7/7/2020, Mercury; 7/6/2020 and York Dispatch; 6/26/2020

PA finishes 2019-2020 budget year $3.2B below expectations
According to Pennsylvania Department of Revenue data recently made public, the commonwealth finished the 2019-2020 budget $3.2 billion, or 9.1%, below expectations. In a statement, the Revenue Department said a shift in tax deadlines to July 15 accounted for $133 million worth of the shortfall, while the $444.4 million balance was directly attributable to the pandemic-induced dip in the economy. Of note, realty transfer taxes from home sales totaled $33.1 million in June, or $26.5 million below estimate. That brought the fiscal-year total for realty transfer taxes to $497.8 million, which is $58 million, or 10.4%, less than anticipated. Click here for the full article including breakdowns of other taxes.
Source: Pennsylvania Capital-Star; 7/2/2020

Homeowners, renters may be eligible for assistance
Renters and homeowners who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic can apply for rent and mortgage relief via the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). Applicants are able to submit their paperwork to a county organization chosen by PHFA for review. To be eligible to apply, renters and homeowners must show documentation of at least a 30% reduction in annual income since March 1 due to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $3.9 billion for Pennsylvania and is intended to help people hurt economically during the pandemic. In late May, the General Assembly directed $175 million of the CARES dollars to PHFA to provide assistance for struggling renters and homeowners. Read more here.
Source: Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®; 6/25/2020

Bucks County

Looking for a deed? Recorder says to check closing documents first
The Bucks County Recorder of Deeds office has asked for help from Realtors® and title agencies. The office gets many calls from homeowners looking for the deeds to their properties. A common misconception is the office “holds” the deeds, when in fact, the office records the deeds and can provide copies of them. The actual deed will be included in the closing documents at time of settlement. The Recorder of Deeds is asking Realtors® and any other agency involved in the settlement to remind homeowners to look in the closing documents for the deed first. If they cannot locate it, call the Recorder of Deeds office at 215-348-6209 for assistance. Visit the Bucks County Recorder of Deeds website here.
Source: Bucks County Recorder of Deeds office; 7/2020

Bucks prepares for eviction moratorium end
Before Gov. Wolf announced that he was extending the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium through Aug. 31, Bucks County’s director of housing and community development was preparing for an increase in evictions that could follow the original expiration date of July 10. “This is a challenging time for tenants and landlords,” said Jeffrey Fields, during the commissioners’ weekly, virtual press conference. Fields referred those who may be facing eviction to the Bucks County Housing Link, which can be reached at 800-810-4434. Fields estimated the county has experienced a 10% increase in homelessness since the COVID-19 pandemic began — a number that isn’t “dramatic, but it is significant,” and said the county is prepared for an increase in evictions.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/2/2020

Northampton extends LERTA tax breaks for an additional five years
Northampton supervisors recently approved an ordinance that will provide additional tax breaks for properties included in the township’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program. Properties in the LERTA get a five-year exemption from additional property taxes resulting from new construction or alterations. Township officials said seven businesses have taken advantage of the tax break during the past five years. The time period begins after an occupancy permit is granted for the new part of a commercial or business property. Northampton Township Manager Robert Pellegrino encouraged the renovation and conversion of the previously vacant Richboro School property into a business, and supervisor Barry Moore added that the LERTA has “helped revitalize our downtown areas.” The township’s LERTA changes must also be approved by the Council Rock School Board and Bucks County Commissioners, both of whom have indicated their support.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/6/2020

Merger creates new county department focused on economic development
The Bucks County Workforce Development Board has merged with the existing county economic development unit to form the Bucks County Office of Workforce and Economic Development. The Bucks County Commissioners voted in June to merge the two groups into the umbrella of county government. The new department will offer “market-driven information and services that align with regional and statewide workforce development planning” and “help designate available funding to stimulate economic development by strengthening Bucks County’s workforce,” according to the county. The department will be led by Billie F. Barnes, who has served as director of the nonprofit Workforce Development Board since last summer, and who has more than a quarter-century of experience in the workforce and training industry.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/2/2020

Chester County 

Westtown supervisors schedule hearing on Crebilly development
The Westtown Township Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing to consider the conditional use application of Toll Brothers regarding the developer’s plans to build homes on the Crebilly Farm property. The 322-acre property, located at the intersection of Route 202 and Route 926, is currently used for agriculture and residential uses. Toll is proposing a total of 319 residential units, consisting of two existing homes, 182 single-family detached dwellings and 135 townhomes, and also containing internal streets, utilities, stormwater management facilities, landscaping, community recreation facilities, and other improvements. Preservation activists, who say the land is an important Revolutionary War historical site, and the township have sparred with the developer over the proposed development for years. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, July 21, at 6 p.m. at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 226 N. High St., West Chester. Proper social distancing will be required, and all attendees will be required to wear masks for the duration of the time they are on the property. Upon entrance to the facility, all attendees will be required to provide their name and phone number for contact tracing purposes, and appropriately spaced seating will be at the direction of the facility staff. For more information, visit the Westtown Township website.
Source: Daily Local; 7/6/2020

Task force to discuss Icedale Trail feasibility in public meeting
The Icedale Trail Feasibility Study Task Force, with members appointed by Honey Brook and West Brandywine townships, will conduct a virtual meeting on Wednesday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. to prepare a study for consideration by the supervisors of the two townships. The Icedale Trail corridor would roughly parallel Route 322, connecting residential areas and recreation options, focusing on Icedale Lake and Icedale Meadows Park. The project was awarded a Vision Partnership Program grant from the county in 2019. The public is invited to join the task force meeting via Zoom by requesting login information from the Honey Brook township manager at manager@honeybrooktwp.org by noon on Wednesday, July 15. Public comments may be submitted by email to the same address at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.
Source: Daily Local; 7/8/2020 and Chester County Planning Commission; 12/16/19

West Vincent supports 100% renewal energy by 2050
The West Vincent Township Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to transition to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050. The move is part of a nationwide campaign called Ready for 100, sponsored by the Sierra Club, which advocates for an affordable and equitable energy system powered by green energy sources like wind and solar. West Vincent is the 161st community in the country, and the 11th in Chester County, to officially set community-wide energy transition goals. Supervisors will create a committee to develop and monitor the energy transition plan. Members of the township's environmental advisory council and sustainability committee will be the initial members of the committee.
Source: Daily Local; 7/4/2020

West Chester council member resigns, raises concerns about closing Gay Street
West Chester Borough Councilwoman Denise Polk abruptly resigned from the council. Polk, who represented Ward 7, gave no specific reason for her departure in her resignation letter dated June 28, but she wrote at length about her opposition to borough plans to shut down Gay Street for four blocks to allow restaurants and merchants to set up tables and merchandise displays in the street, a move designed to allow for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. “This is not the time to shut down Gay Street, regardless of ‘getting back to normal’ or economics, because we’re talking about human lives,” Polk wrote. Polk was originally appointed to council to fill a vacancy but was subsequently elected by voters to remain on council. The council has 30 days to pick an interim replacement, and will likely interview candidates at the Tuesday, July 14, work session and vote on a candidate at the Wednesday, July 15, voting session. Ward 7 voters will then vote on who fills the position at the polls in November. Candidates must be registered to vote and be a resident of the ward for a year prior to the council vote. Instructions to apply are available online on the borough website.
Source: Daily Local; 7/6/2020

Delaware County

Don’t panic yet over new assessment values
Official reassessment values have arrived in homeowners' mailboxes in Delaware County, as the comprehensive reassessment project nears its conclusion. Some property owners have been shocked to see new assessments that are double their current assessed values, or even higher, but those increases are not necessarily cause for alarm. Here are three points worth remembering:

  • A lower (or higher) assessment won't necessarily mean a proportionally lower (or higher) tax bill. The tax rate (millage) will change based on the total assessed value of properties in the municipality, school district or county.
  • Previous assessments in Delaware County were supposed to be about 56.5% of market value, and new assessments are 100% of market value.
  • Property owners can appeal their new assessments. The deadline is Sept. 1. The appeal form (PDF) is available on the county website.

The new assessment values will take effect for the 2021 tax year. More info can be found on the SRA’s reassessment webpage.

Media Borough mulls temporary chicken ban
Media Borough Council will consider a draft ordinance prohibiting the keeping of chickens and fowl within the borough from the date of the ordinance’s enactment until Nov. 30. A public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Borough Hall, 301 N. Jackson St., Media. The council has in the past noted, in response to public comments, that the municipal code regarding chickens lacks clarity.
Source: Daily Times; 7/6/2020

Delco council appoints new executive director
Delaware County Council appointed George Lazarus to replace outgoing longtime executive director Marianne Grace. Lazarus grew up in Marple Township and attended Marple Newtown High School before attending West Point and serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 20 years. Lazarus most recently served as city administrator for Ann Arbor, Michigan, and previously worked for eight years as the public works director in Austin, Texas. “He is a specialist in a lot of types of municipal infrastructure that we are seriously in need of addressing,” Councilwoman Christine Reuther said. According to Councilman Kevin Madden, more than 140 applicants nationwide were in the running for the job, and Grace was among the three finalists, but Lazarus was ultimately found to be the kind of “change agent” the county needs. No salary figure for his new position in the county was mentioned during Wednesday’s meeting. The position runs for two years.
Source: Daily Times; 7/4/2020

Radnor may require Knox Boxes
The Radnor Township Board of Commissioners will consider a draft ordinance that would require the installation of Knox Box-style rapid entry systems, which allow emergency responders entry to buildings and may also include emergency contact information, floor plans and notes about hazardous materials. Draft Ordinance 2020-05, as presented in a supervisors’ agenda earlier this year, states that the rapid-entry systems will be required as a condition of land development for all buildings or structures located in the township, with the exception of “owner-occupied one- and two-family dwellings.” Properties with multiple buildings will need to have a single rapid-entry system installed for each building. The commissioners will consider and possibly enact the ordinance at a public hearing on Monday, July 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Radnor Township Municipal Building, 301 Iven Ave., Wayne.
Source: Daily Times; 7/2/2020

Concord, Chadds Ford conduct commercial corridor survey
Concord and Chadds Ford townships are working together to determine how Route 1 (Baltimore Pike) and Route 202 can be better utilized for regional travel to shopping, entertainment and employment. The municipalities are seeking public input via a short online survey, which takes about five minutes to complete. “A grant from Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission gives us an opportunity to ask how these two roadways can better support local trips,” the survey says. “The goal is that over time, investments in paths, sidewalks, tree canopy, trail connections, and the occasional bus shelter, trail head and bike rack, will provide viable non-motorized options for getting around that residents, employees and visitors appreciate and enjoy.” Click Here to take the survey.
Source: Concord Township; 6/2020

Montgomery County

Help available to county renters, homeowners
Low- to moderate-income Montgomery County renters who have been hurt financially during the COVID-19 outbreak can apply for rental assistance under a statewide program. The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) to provide rent relief program payments of up to $750 per month to low- and moderate-income renters financially impacted by the economic slowdown during the pandemic. The application process opened on Monday, July 6. Additionally, county residents in need of emergency mortgage assistance can apply directly to the PHFA. Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. said funding for the relief program is provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For more information about the rent relief program and how to apply, visit the Montgomery County Health and Human Services website or talk with a representative of the county’s Community Connections Navicates office by calling 610-278-3929. Click here for the full article from the Pottstown Mercury.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/7/2020

West Norriton to authorize commercial property fire inspection program
West Norriton Township supervisors will hold a public hearing with the intention to adopt the 2015 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) on Tuesday, July 14, at 7 p.m., via Zoom and/or at the West Norriton Township Building located at 1630 West Marshall St., Jeffersonville. The proposed ordinances would: update the existing fire code to reference the 2015 IFC; add a commercial fire inspection program; and update the alarm system program for both police and fire. Copies of the proposed ordinances are available for review on the township website. Members of the public wishing to listen or participate in the meeting should visit the township website for login instructions. The public may also submit questions and comments related to agenda items to info@wntwp.com by Tuesday, July 14, at 3 p.m., being sure to include the sender’s name and address.
Source: Times Herald; 6/30/2020

Commissioners look for feedback on primary election
Holding a primary election during a pandemic presented myriad challenges for Montgomery County, including an extraordinary number of absentee and mail-in ballots, many polling location changes and the logistics of voting in-person during a public health emergency. The county has created a survey to learn more about the public’s experience during the primary election, and the feedback will help county officials determine how to approach the general election in November. Click here to take the survey, which will remain open through Tuesday, July 14.
Source: Montgomery County; 7/2020

County assessment appeals due before August
The Montgomery County Board of Assessment announced the assessment roll has been completed. Anyone desiring to appeal an assessment must file an appeal on or before the first business day of August 2020. Click here for the Board of Assessment Appeals website. For information regarding assessments, visit Montgomery County’s property records search page.
Source: Times Herald; 6/30/2020

Philadelphia

City landlords sue to block pandemic renter protections
Philadelphia landlords are suing to block a package of newly enacted city housing bills meant to keep financially struggling tenants in their homes, saying the measures unilaterally rewrite leases and seek to place all the financial burden for the coronavirus pandemic on those leasing properties. The lawsuit, filed by the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia (HAPCO), asks a judge to declare the ordinances unconstitutional and to void the new laws, which, among other measures, bar landlords from initiating eviction proceedings for failure to pay rent through Aug. 31. (After the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Wolf extended a statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium until Aug. 31.) “Landlords throughout the city are still required to pay their mortgages, property taxes and other expenses related to the leased properties,” the suit says. “There is no similar COVID-19 financial hardship provision” for them. City council passed a package of five bills that extends the eviction suspension, barred landlords from charging late fees or interest on back rent owed, and required them to offer payment plans to financially struggling tenants and to submit to a mediation process before seeking to evict them. Mayor Jim Kenney signed the bills into law on July 1. Councilwoman Helen Gym, the lead sponsor of the housing bills, said HAPCO had been heavily involved in discussions about crafting the bill and had participated on a task force that recommended landlord-tenant mediation as a precursor to evictions — a measure the group is now suing to block. “I’m appalled at HAPCO’s relentless effort to pit landlords against tenants rather than to find common cause in creating sensible and humane alternatives to a crisis that impacts so many,” she said. “We need to manage a crisis, not exacerbate one.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/7/2020

Philadelphia delays reopening of landlord-tenant court
Philadelphia’s landlord-tenant court will remain closed to nonemergency business at least through Sept. 2. The order was made due to an increasing number of new infections in the city and “limitations in accessing court facilities.” The order averts what tenant advocates expected would be a disaster of confused renters unaware of new pandemic-related protections and renters who would automatically lose their cases by not showing up to court out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia estimated that more than half of tenants wouldn’t have come to court because of the coronavirus, up from the typical range of 30% to 40%. “It’s just not practical to open within a global health emergency,” said Rachel Garland, a managing attorney in the housing unit at Community Legal Services. “Stable housing remains our strongest and most reliable means of prevention.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/2/2020

 
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