NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
SRA coronavirus information page

Bucks County
Sellersville considers legal action against landlords 

Chester County
Layoffs and furloughs in West Chester Borough 

Delaware County
Upper Darby considers sewer lateral inspection

Montgomery County
Lower Moreland to extend tax deadline 

Philadelphia County
No deed, no deal: Philadelphia real estate industry stymied by move online

 

News Briefs

 

General News

SRA coronavirus information page
The coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak is causing municipal and county government offices to reduce their operations — affecting local code inspection processes and county recorder of deeds offices. The Alliance is working to minimize the impact of these changes on Realtors® and their clients who are involved in property transfers. The Alliance website has a coronavirus page with more information, answers to frequently asked questions and links to other resources. 

Real estate license renewal and CE requirements extended to Aug. 29
License renewal and continuing education requirements for real estate brokers and salespersons have been delayed 90 days, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. The bureau announced the delay as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Renewals and continuing education requirements will now be required by Saturday, Aug. 29. Association-owned real estate schools throughout the state have canceled and postponed continuing education classes over the past few weeks in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions imposed to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Read more on the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® website.
Source: PAR JustListed; 3/27/2020

Governor authorizes temporary use of remote online notarization
Gov. Tom Wolf on March 25 approved a temporary notarial rule suspension to allow for remote online notarization of documents in a limited category of real estate transactions. For residential real estate transactions, the new rule only applies to transactions that were already in process (e.g. agreement of sale completed for residential property and only final closing needs to take place) at the time of the governor’s declared state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 6. The limited suspension will enable real estate professionals to complete transactions begun prior to the disaster declaration, but protect Pennsylvanians by limiting visitors to private homes and enabling real estate professionals to comply with the governor’s directive regarding non-life sustaining businesses. For commercial real estate transactions, the governor approved a similar suspension of the rules for both transactions that were already in process as well as new transactions during the emergency period. Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® President Bill Festa expressed support for the rule suspension and noted that PAR continues to advocate for the passage of House Bill 1564 (Emerick, R-Northampton), which passed the House earlier this week and would permanently allow remote online notarization. Read more about the safeguards included in the rule suspension on the PAR website.
Source: PAR JustListed; 3/27/2020 

NAR information relating to Covid-19 relief
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has been working to ensure that lawmakers continue to consider the real estate industry, including independent contractors and small business owners, as they craft COVID-19 relief legislation. On March 18, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), providing support to American workers, families, and businesses, including the expansion of paid sick leave and family medical leave. The act included refundable tax credits for small businesses and self-employed individuals to cover the cost of the leave. On March 27, Congress passed a $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (The CARES Act). Read more about how these pieces of legislation affect real estate on the NAR website: Coronavirus Emergency Legislation: What Realtors® Need to Know.
Source: Nar.realtor; 4/1/2020 

PUC offering options regarding utilities
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) wants residents who are financially stressed due to the pandemic to reach out for help. “Now, more than ever, maintaining utility services is essential to the well-being of our families and communities,” the commissioners wrote in a joint statement. The commission directed impacted Pennsylvanians to contact their respective utilities directly to discuss their customer assistance programs (CAPs). Households that were not eligible in the past may now qualify, as standards have changed. They recommended that customers currently in CAPs who have experienced further reductions in household income should also reach out to their utilities, as they may qualify for additional assistance or more favorable financial options. Support options for financially stressed customers include extended payment plans, budget billing, utility hardship funds, and assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the federal Lifeline program, which is a telecommunications and broadband access funding support program. The PUC has also taken steps to pause payment-related utility terminations during the coronavirus crisis. PECO has suspended all late fees and terminations of service through May 1, and is re-connecting electricity for those who have had it terminated. Telecommunications companies are working with the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep America Connected program to ensure that Americans do not lose broadband or telephone connectivity.
Source: Daily Times; 4/1/2020 

Pa. primary moved to June 2
Gov. Wolf signed legislation moving the state’s primary election to Tuesday, June 2, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline to register to vote has accordingly been moved to May 18. Voters do not have to go to the polls this year if they want to avoid crowds. They can apply for mail-in ballots on the state website or by visiting a county elections office. No excuse is needed to apply for a mail-in ballot.
Source: York Daily Record; 3/25/2020 

PAR offers information about pandemic unemployment assistance
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) has been working to get answers on financial resources available to Realtors® through the federal CARES Act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program will be a state-run assistance program separate from the current unemployment process. At this time, the application for this program is not yet available and self-employed individuals should not complete an application for the current program. Once full details about the PUA are released, PAR will communicate the process with members via email, on the PAR coronavirus website and on social media. PAR does not have a date as of yet when the application will be available.
Source: PAR; 4/1/2020

Bucks County

Sellersville considers legal action against landlords
Sellersville Borough adopted an ordinance regulating rental properties last August that seeks to “protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare” of Sellersville and its residents by mandating that owners of residential rental units register with the borough and allow their properties to undergo periodic inspections. At a March 9 public meeting, borough council authorized the borough solicitor to pursue potential legal recourse against rental property owners who have not responded to Sellersville’s attempts to register their properties. According to Borough Manager David Rivet, about 25 of the borough’s 225 identified rental properties have not complied. Rivet said the first step will likely be a warning letter, followed by court action if needed. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, plus court costs and attorney fees incurred by Sellersville. Imprisonment of up to 90 days is also on the table. Borough officials say they do not want the situation to deteriorate to court battles and fines; they just want rental property owners to follow the rules. Click here for more information about Sellersville’s rental property licensing program.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/26/2020 

Bucks County facilities update
Bucks County government buildings and parks are closed to the public as of March 24 in compliance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. Essential government services will continue to operate with limited staffing to continue serving public needs while the county strives to increase its public health services. The Department Contact Directory includes phone numbers and descriptions of each department within the county. Click here for county departments and facilities updates, including Recorder of Deeds information. 

Pennsbury School Board cancels Village Park hearing
Pennsbury School Board has canceled a public hearing to discuss the possible closure of the Village Park Academy. The district did not provide details as to when, or if, the hearing regarding the possible closure of Village Park would take place. In early March, the district said it was considering closing the academy that serves both district and non-district students in grades 4 to 12 who require emotional and behavioral support. By state law, the district is required to host a public hearing at least three months before deciding to close a school.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/31/2020 

Centennial superintendent announces departure
Centennial Superintendent David Baugh has announced he will leave his position to assume the same position in the Aspen (Colorado) School District effective July 1. Baugh has been superintendent in Centennial since 2015 and was named the 2020 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year by the state Association of School Administrators. “I am deeply sorry to be leaving Centennial. It has been among the best five years of my life,” Baugh said. “We have a great team focused on great work. It is not every superintendent that gets to see such phenomenal growth.” Board President Andrew Dixon said it is too early to talk about selecting a replacement for Baugh. Baugh’s pending departure follows that of Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Polinchock, who is also leaving July 1 to become superintendent in the Lewisburg Area School District, Union County.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/31/2020

Chester County 

Layoffs and furloughs in West Chester Borough
The coronavirus pandemic hit many West Chester Borough employees hard in the pocketbook. Thirty-two borough employees were laid off, eight were furloughed, and hours were reduced for one employee. The borough employs about 150 workers. The layoffs included 15 public works employees, 10 parking department employees, three administrative/reception workers, three building and housing staffers, and one finance employee. There were no layoffs in the police department. On March 15, Borough Hall was closed to the public, and many employees were asked to work remotely. The minimally staffed Building Department is not inspecting construction sites. Borough Manager Mike Perrone said the borough has never before experienced mass layoffs. Borough Councilman Michael Galey said, “The borough is experiencing the financial crunch as every business around the country is experiencing, and we’re taking actions similar to all of those other entities to get through this crisis and land on our feet.” Councilman Bernie Flynn noted that sewers can’t be cleaned, buildings can’t be inspected and many streets can’t be cleaned.
Source: Daily Local; 3/31/2020

North Coventry navigating ‘new normal’ with virus
North Coventry Township supervisors introduced their first workaround during coronavirus public health restrictions by holding their first-ever virtual meeting using the Zoom meeting platform. The supervisors’ meeting was recorded and will be posted on the township website for the public to view. The meeting highlighted the kinds of issues elected officials must still contend with as emergency restrictions make business as usual impossible. “Never in a million years when we met two weeks ago — was it only two weeks ago? — did I think I would be sitting in my office at home hosting a township meeting,” said Supervisor Chairman Jim Marks. The supervisors also recognized that depending on how long businesses are shuttered, the economic impacts on the residents and township operations will be immense.
Source: Daily Local; 3/28/2020 

County office shutdown continues
The Chester County Commissioners said they would extend once more the reduction in staff and services put in place to help slow the spread of the virus in county workplaces. In line with Gov. Tom Wolf’s extension of the “Stay at Home” order,” the county will continue with its “mission essential” staff reduction until the end of April. The continuation of essential-services-only staffing helps to protect not only the health and safety of the county’s 2,400 full- and part-time employees, but also individuals and families throughout the county, the commissioners said in a press release. The county moved to reduce the number of employees who would work from one of the county’s three government buildings on March 14, the day after the commissioners announced the first positive test of a coronavirus patient in the county. Essential services like the courts, the health department and emergency services are still operational.
Source: Daily Local; 4/1/2020 

Chester County Recorder of Deeds update
The Chester County Recorder of Deeds office is closed to the public and operating with a limited staff, but it is accepting and recording documents filed by mail and E-Recording.

  • The Recorder of Deeds accepts documents for recording through the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. It also accepts electronic recording through Simplifile and CSC eRecording. 
  • Documents are recorded same day or next day through the E-Recording system. 
  • If you are searching for, or need copies of, a document, utilize the Eagle Web Records Search

For any questions, call the Recorder of Deeds main office number at 610-344-6330 or email rodinfo@chesco.org. Updates will be posted to the Record of Deeds website and social media pages. Gov. Wolf recently signed an order granting temporary use of remote online notarization for residential real estate transactions that were in process on March 6, when the governor declared a state of emergency, and the Chester County’s Recorder’s office will accept remote online notarization in accordance with this.
Source: Chester County Recorder of Deeds; 3/27/2020 

Delaware County

Upper Darby considers sewer lateral inspection
Upper Darby Township Council is considering approving an ordinance that would impose a sewer lateral inspection at the point of sale for real estate transfers. Draft Ordinance 3070 was discussed at a committee meeting on April 1 and is scheduled for public discussion and possible adoption on Wednesday, April 15. The Suburban Realtors Alliance has submitted comments on the proposal, noting that as written it violates Act 133 by requiring that repairs be made prior to settlement. “The idea of introducing such an ineffective point-of-sale inspection during an unprecedented health and financial crisis is mind-boggling,” said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of the SRA. “While we believe that the timing of this proposed ordinance is misguided and could cause substantial financial distress for current residents of Upper Darby, we will continue to work with the township to ensure it is at least compliant with Act 133 of 2016.” 

Delaware County Recorder of Deeds update
The Delaware County Recorder of Deeds office will operate with a reduced and staggered staff to ensure the continuity of government during the coronavirus outbreak, but the offices will not be open to the public, except by appointment. Staff is taking calls at 610-891-4152. The office is accepting documents for recording through the U.S. Postal Service. Deeds may also be left in the drop box at the Government Center (courtyard side) — the office recommends calling to make them aware that a document has been dropped off. Starting on April 6, the office will allow title searches on a limited, appointment-only basis. The recorder’s online records search page can be found here. Unlike other suburban counties, Delaware County does not have a web-based system for e-filing, according to a recent WHYY article.
Source: Delaware County; 4/1/2020 

Chester cuts workforce as emergency rages
An unspecified number of city government employees are facing temporary layoffs at the end of the month due to the ongoing coronavirus situation. Officials delivered the message to employees Wednesday afternoon ahead of final paychecks to “encourage them to file for unemployment compensation benefits” without a lapse of wages, according to a press release from city officials. Affected employees will still receive applicable benefits. City government officials had no further comment, according to press secretary Aigner Cleveland. While the release states it is the city’s “hope that this will not be for an extended period of time and that we can all return to a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later,” it did not mention potential plans for obtaining local government funding through federal coronavirus relief legislation.
Source: Daily Times; 3/28/2020

Springfield OKs deal for school bus storage site
The Springfield School Board — at a meeting in which several members participated via telephone — gave final approval for a new bus storage facility and handled other timely business. Superintendent Tony Barber, Executive Director Don Mooney and Board President Bruce Lord were present at the administration building, and board members attended via a conference call. As part of bus storage for the high school master plan, the board approved the agreement of sale to purchase 2.8 acres at 501 Eagle Road from Fern Hill Realty Corp. for the $2.31 million. The parcel will accommodate the district’s current 35 buses and 25 vans, and has office space for operations to be housed in an on-site structure improved by the seller. The remote site will accomplish two major goals: add approximately 100 parking spaces on campus, and eliminate bus traffic from the adjacent neighborhoods. The master plan has been carefully designed to minimize the impact of pick up and drop off at the new high school.
Source: Daily Times; 2/28/2020 

Chester issues calls for RFPs despite court-ordered stand-down
The City of Chester approved the issuance of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the sale of the Chester Water Authority (CWA), despite a spate of yet-to-be-heard court challenges and one outstanding temporary injunction issued Feb. 3 prohibiting the city from taking “any final action” that would impact the authority’s operations or finances. City council passed a resolution stating that the primary interest is to explore processes to “potentially monetize the assets of the Chester Water Authority.” The CWA provides fresh water to several municipalities in Delaware and Chester counties. Its nine-member board — comprised of three Chester County members, three Delaware County members and three City of Chester members — is fighting to block any potential sale, saying the city does not have the power to sell the authority.
Source: Chester Spirit; 3/4/10/2020

Montgomery County

Lower Moreland to extend tax deadline
The Lower Moreland Township Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, at 2:30 p.m. to consider amending Ordinance 746, the tax levy ordinance. The proposed amendment changes the current April 22 deadline for the 2% discount on township real estate tax payments to June 19, and extends the face payment date to Aug. 20. A copy of the proposed ordinance can be found here. The special meeting will be held via the teleconference platform Zoom. Click here for information about how to view and comment.
Source: Lower Moreland Township; 3/31/2020

Municipal spotlight: Pottstown Borough
Pottstown Borough Hall remains closed to visitors, but borough staff continue to work and can be reached by phone and email. Contacts are listed on the borough website. Mail, drop box payments and paperwork received in Borough Hall will be quarantined for a period of three days, but payments and paperwork will be marked received on the day it is deposited into the drop box or received through the mail, according to a borough announcement. No rental, building or property transfer inspections will take place, and permits related to emergencies, such as sewer laterals or water service, will be issued on a case-by-case basis. Borough and business leaders are taking steps to ease burdens on residents where they can, including suspending water shut-offs, working to extend property tax deadlines and lifting fees for parking. Parks and trails remain open with the requirement that six-feet of social distancing between individuals be maintained, but playground equipment and picnic pavilions are closed. Peggy Lee-Clark, the executive director of PAID, the borough’s economic development partner, said the business closures order by Gov. Wolf have put a burden on the many new restaurants that have opened in the borough in the past year. PAID has created a list to keep the community informed on current business operations for some of them. Click here for more information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/30/2020 

Montgomery County facilities and Recorder of Deeds update
Montgomery County began offering limited county and court operations on March 18. Click here for the list of limited services. The county set up a webpage dedicated to coronavirus updates here. Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg has also posted information about recording and title searching here

Valley Forge National Historical Park closes trails
Valley Forge National Historical Park officials made the decision to close trails and parking lots to the public until further notice. Cars parked illegally will be ticketed, and others blocking access for emergency vehicles will be towed, according to the park’s website. While state parks and other facilities will be closed until at least April 30, area residents can access several natural amenities including trails, forests, roads and parking areas at state parks, according to Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Gail Farmer, executive director of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association (soon to be renamed Wissahickon Trails) said trail use has gone up, and she encouraged people to be cognizant of the number of people already using area walking spaces. “If you come to use one of the trails and the parking lot is full, please just come back later ... or find another location that might be less crowded,” Farmer said.
Source: The Reporter; 3/26/2020

Philadelphia

No deed, no deal: Philadelphia real estate industry stymied by move online
The City of Philadelphia has stopped accepting in-person deed transfers for an indefinite period of time due to the spread of coronavirus. All real estate transactions must now be handled through e-mail and telephone-based systems, according to city officials. “The Records Department has designated a core recording team, which has been up and running remotely since yesterday processing electronic recordings, which constitute approximately 85% of all recordings in Philadelphia,” said city spokesperson Mike Dunn. “There was no break in this service.” Deed recording is one of the oldest county government functions, meaning the stoppage is likely the first time the city has indefinitely suspended the in-person deed transfers in its 337-year history. But title searches — the confirmation of property’s legal ownership and outstanding debts — still can’t be done until the office reopens to the public. The shift to remote filing has not been totally free of disruption. Even with the city’s pre-existing digital filing options, four major title companies were regularly filing deed transfers in-person prior to the city’s social distancing efforts. “It’s extremely important to have a recording system in place. Without it, you can’t transfer real estate. You can’t get title insurance unless your interest is recorded,” said Todd Rowe, an officer at the Pennsylvania Land Title Association, a trade group. “But the city got extra laptops and secured remote access for staff. So far the process has been pretty seamless.”
Source: Plan Philly; 3/26/2020 

Philly Council advances $85.4 million coronavirus emergency spending bill
Philadelphia’s $85.4 million emergency coronavirus spending bill is expected to pass next week with $400,000 earmarked for city council to use in their districts for messaging about social distancing. “We all have our various constituencies, and we need to reach everybody in every meaningful way,” said City Council President Darrell Clarke. The bill was amended on the floor to include the appropriation. The money, which will come out of the city’s general fund, could be spent on outreach efforts like robocalls, billboards, social media and mailers to promote public health and warn residents of potential pandemic-related scams. The rest of the $85 million package is slated to go to the managing director’s office. While $10 million will go toward taxes and indemnities, the other $75 million be split into three $25 million chunks for payroll costs, external contracts and material costs. “Today our job is to make sure we don’t leave those first-line responders holding the bag,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones. In briefings, Mayor Jim Kenney has told reporters it is far too soon to say what the impact of the pandemic will be and emphasized how utterly essential federal aid will be to local governments. The $2 trillion stimulus proposed at the federal level could provide some relief, but it is still unclear how much. Council President Clarke said he’d heard an estimate that $5 billion would be going to Pennsylvania, but he was unsure of the amount being allocated to Philadelphia.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/26/2020 

Developers say coronavirus won’t end Philly’s real estate boom
For now, most construction in the city is halted, but many developers’ faith in the industry’s future remains strong. Layoffs have hit architecture firms, real estate companies and contractors. The Philadelphia Building Trades Council reports a 60% unemployment rate for its members. Project managers who managed to secure waivers from state authorities report difficulties finding workers, as some subcontractors laid off their work forces en masse after last Friday’s end-of-construction deadline. Still, the developers say the acute pain will be temporary. Most of the real estate professionals interviewed predict that the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic would affect their industry less dramatically than the Great Recession. The industry optimism is not without caveats. Moody’s Analytics is predicting a sharp decline in residential sector lending activity in the second quarter of this year, followed by a sharp rebound afterward. But the company believes credit markets will remain tighter into 2021, contributing to a downturn in home construction that will worsen affordability for potential homebuyers, aggravating an existing affordability crisis.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/1/2020

 

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