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In a four-county region where 238 municipalities each have their own way of governing real estate sales, you might think there would be an endless array of inquiries from our 11,000 members regarding these varied and often frustrating rules.
And while it’s true that our staff has fielded a wide variety of questions about the intricacies of municipal point-of-sale regulations, there are some we hear on an almost daily basis. Recently, many questions have focused on Act 133 of 2016, the new law that made important amendments to Pennsylvania’s Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act.
In this column, I’ll give our best advice on the most common of these questions.
If a municipal inspection is required, how early should I schedule it?
The earlier, the better. We recommend that you call the municipality to schedule an inspection no less than 30 days before the scheduled closing. Municipalities generally don’t want to step on your sale, but the municipal staff needs sufficient time to perform its work.
An early inspection also gives your client advance notice of any issues with the home that could complicate the sale. The extra time allows them to complete repairs or negotiate with the other party about how the work will be done.
When Realtors® call our office regarding use and occupancy inspection or certificate issues just a day or two prior to settlement, it can be very difficult for us to help resolve them in a way that allows a transaction to move forward on time.
How does Act 133 define “unfit for human habitation?”
Under Act 133, homes that are deemed “unfit for human habitation” by an inspector are only eligible for a “temporary access permit.” While the meaning of “unfit” will always be somewhat subjective, Act 133 helps to narrow the definition, stating that it applies to a condition likely to be dangerous to the health and safety of occupants or neighbors, including things like fire risks, lack of sanitary facilities, vermin or overall disrepair that would cost half or more of the sales price of the property to repair. This term is generally limited to the worst types of violations.
True or False: Under Act 133, municipalities can’t require escrow before issuing a resale certificate.
True. The law forbids a municipality from requiring escrowed funds, bonds or other sorts of financial arrangements as a condition of issuing the certificate. A municipality may, however, require escrow for permitted work necessary to graduate from a temporary resale certificate to a full one.
True or false: Under Act 133, municipalities can no longer require municipal inspections before a real estate transaction.
False! If a municipality has a point-of-sale inspection ordinance, a seller is required to order an inspection and follow the procedures laid out by the process described in the ordinance. The main change implemented by Act 133 is that once a code inspection has been completed, the municipality must issue a resale certificate.
How do Act 133 rules apply to code/ordinance violations that were cited through some other process?
The law is directed only at violations that are found when a municipality decides to inspect a property at resale; it does not apply to violations discovered through prior inspections, or open municipal construction permits.
For violations already on the books that have advanced to some sort of judicial enforcement, the generally applicable municipal rules would still apply and a new owner wouldn’t be guaranteed a certificate. In addition, if the property has previously been cited under the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, those rules would apply instead.
How do I know if a municipality requires a point-of-sale inspection?
Realtors® can visit our website's municipal database, which has information on each of the 238 municipalities in the four counties we monitor. The database includes information on point-of-sale inspections, sign requirements and millage rates.