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As an advocate for the real estate industry and consumers of real estate in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties (PA), the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance utilizes policy statements as the foundation for its activities. In developing these policies, the Alliance seeks the input and experience of REALTOR® volunteers, staff and legal counsel, conducts extensive research, and factors in general business practices and "best practices" within the industry. The Alliance focuses on local public policy issues that impact the real estate settlement process, the rights of real property owners, and the cost of housing. The Alliance partners with the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS® on state issues and the National Association of REALTORS® on federal issues. In an effort to educate the general public, government officials, and the real estate industry, we have included organizational policy statements on this site. If there are any questions or comments, please contact us via e-mail.
The Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA) sets forth procedures which must be followed by municipalities that require property maintenance and other code inspections upon the sale of a residential property. MCOCA was recently amended through Act 133 of 2016 to address situations in which municipalities were not following the Act, leading to some real estate transactions being postponed or cancelled due to minor property maintenance violations. The amendments in Act 133 clarify the rights and responsibilities of both municipalities and property owners so these issues don't occur in the future.
Municipalities are not required by the Act to inspect existing homes that are being sold. However, municipalities that do require such inspections must issue a Use and Occupancy Certificate, prior to the date of purchase, in the following manner:
1) USE AND OCCUPANCY PERMIT: If no property maintenance or other code violations are found, a Use and Occupancy Certificate must be issued allowing the property to be used or occupied as intended.
2) TEMPORARY USE AND OCCUPANCY PERMIT: If the municipal inspection reveals at least one violation, but no substantial violations (see definition, next column), the municipality shall issue a Temporary Use and Occupancy Certificate. The purpose of a temporary use and occupancy permit is to authorize the purchaser to fully utilize or reside in the property while correcting code violations.
3) TEMPORARY ACCESS CERTIFICATE: If the municipal inspection reveals a substantial code violation which renders a building “unfit for habitation,” a Temporary Access Certificate must be issued. The purpose of the certificate is to authorize the purchaser to access the property for the purpose of correcting substantial violations. No person may occupy a property during the term of a Temporary Access Certificate, but the owner shall be permitted to store equipment that is related to the proposed use or occupancy of the property or is needed to repair the substantial violations during the time of the Temporary Access Certificate.
SUBSTANTIAL VIOLATION: A Substantial Violation is a condition which makes a building “unfit for habitation.” Unfit for habitation is defined as: “A condition which renders a building, structure, or any part thereof, dangerous or injurious to the health, safety or physical welfare of an occupant or the occupants of neighboring dwellings. The condition may include substantial violations of a property that show evidence of: a significant increase to the hazards of fire or accident; inadequate sanitary facilities; vermin infestation; or a condition of disrepair, dilapidation or structural defects such that the cost of rehabilitation and repair would exceed one-half of the agreed-upon purchase price of the property.”
ESCROWS AND BONDS PROHIBITED: A municipality may not require the escrowing of funds or posting of a bond, or impose any similar financial security as a condition of issuing a certificate. But before accessing the property, a property owner is still generally required to follow all the applicable rules for permits, fees, escrows, etc., under existing building, property maintenance and fire codes or other health or safety codes.
COMPLIANCE PERIOD: A new owner will have 12 months from the date of purchase to either bring the property into compliance with codes or demolish the building. At the request of the property owner the municipality may negotiate a longer time period, but may not shorten it.
REINSPECTION OF PROPERTY: (1) At the expiration of the 12 month time period or before that time, if requested by the property owner, the municipality shall reinspect the property to determine compliance with the cited violations. (2) If a temporary access permit has been issued and reinspection indicates that the noted substantial violations have been corrected but other cited violations have not yet been corrected, the municipality shall issue a temporary use and occupancy permit to be valid for the time remaining on the original temporary access permit. (3) If the reinspection indicates that all noted violations have been corrected, the municipality shall issue a Use and Occupancy Certificate for the property.
FAILURE TO COMPLY BY OWNER: If the property owner fails to correct the code violations cited by the municipality, the following actions may occur: 1) Revocation of the temporary certificate; 2) The purchaser will be subject to any existing municipal ordinances or codes relating to the occupation of a property without a Use and Occupancy Certificate; 3) The purchaser will be personally liable for the costs of maintenance, repairs or demolition sufficient to correct the cited violations, and a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000.
PRE-EXISTING VIOLATIONS: This Act generally applies to violations that are found as a part of the municipal inspections done for property resale. But these rules do not apply to violations of a local code or ordinance that are already the subject of a fine or some other judicial action against the current owner, or to properties that are subject to certain other statutory provisions. In those instances, the violations must be addressed under the other applicable rules, whatever they may be.
To read Act 133 of 2016 in full, click here.
For more information about Act 133 of 2016, visit the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors' Legal Resource Library here.
If you are a member of the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance and have a question about enforcement of the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act, please call our staff at (610) 981-9000 or email email@example.com
The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance believes point-of-sale inspections are inequitable because they place a burden on homeowners and sellers. In general, REALTORS® believe that use and occupancy requirements enforced solely at the point of sale do little to promote health, safety and welfare of all citizens. Ideally, if inspections are to be required for occupancy of a home, business or rental unit, they should be conducted on a regular basis for all properties — not only at the point of sale. Further, occupancy criteria should be uniform and limited to true health and safety issues.
For municipalities that do require property maintenance and other code inspections upon the sale of a residential property, the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance advocates for the adherence to the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA). MCOCA clarifies the rights and responsibilities of both municipalities and property owners. Realtors are encouraged to be familiar with MCOCA. Municipalities are not required by the Act to inspect existing homes that are being sold. However, municipalities that do require such inspections must issue a Use and Occupancy Certificate, prior to the date of purchase, in the following manner:
New Residential Property Disclosure
The Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act, the Real Estate Seller's Disclosure Act, the Planned Communities Act, and the Co-Op and Condominium Act provide ample guidance regarding licensees' obligations to their clients, and establish penalties for non-compliance. Thus, local disclosure ordinances are an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy for real estate licensees and consumers of real estate services.
REALTORS® believe that rental property owners offer a much-needed service by providing housing to citizens who, either by choice or other circumstances, may not want or be able to purchase a home.
We oppose regulations that subject property owners to onerous governmental inspection, registration or licensure requirements, which hinder affordable housing opportunities by discouraging investment in rental properties in a community.
We believe that the overwhelming majority of investment property owners provide safe, quality and affordable housing options, and maintain their properties in a responsible manner.
We believe rental property owners who do not maintain their property in accordance with existing regulations should be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just as owner-occupied homeowners should be held accountable to existing regulations.
REALTORS® believe that if rental unit inspections are to be required, they should be conducted for all properties on a systematic basis utilizing criteria that are standardized, well-publicized and limited to true health and safety issues only. Rental inspection ordinances that are enforced solely at the point of transfer, or re-renting, do little to promote health, safety and welfare of all citizens.
Under Pennsylvania law, the amount of a licensing fee must be commensurate with the expense incurred by the municipality in connection with the issuance and supervision of the licensee and privilege. If a licensee fee collects more than the amount necessary to administer the license, it is no longer a valid licensing fee, but a tax revenue in violation of Article 8, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Property owners who feel that they are subjected to excessive fees for the right to rent property may successfully challenge such fees upon a showing that the amount of the fees exceeds the costs to enforce the regulation.
REALTORS® oppose local rules and regulations that require landlords to act as law enforcement agents regarding tenant behavior. For example, “three-strike” requirements that force landlords to penalize and/or evict tenants after a certain number of nuisance violations and/or responses can lead to unintended consequences for both tenants and landlords.
REALTORS® oppose local regulations requiring that management of properties must be through registered or managing agents within a certain radius of a municipality. While it is important that municipalities have access to accurate contact information for the landlord or property manager, limiting the residence or location of a registered or managing agent to within a radius of a municipality restricts such businesses in a way that could be a restraint of trade.
This non-waivable warranty provides that a tenant in Pennsylvania will have access to a home that is safe, sanitary, and healthful.
REALTORS® are a proponent of private property rights and the ability of an owner to “let for rent” real property. REALTORS® also understand and respect that municipalities need to ensure safety and order in the short-term rental market. REALTORS® oppose outright bans on short-term rentals. REALTORS® do not oppose some level of regulation on short-term rentals, so long as the ability to “let for rent” real property with a minimally intrusive, nominally priced and permissive structure is preserved.
Background: A real estate transfer tax is a state and local tax assessed on real property when ownership of the property is exchanged between parties. All types of real property, including residential, commercial, and agricultural, are subject to the transfer tax. Although the tax is generally levied on the value of the property, it is assessed only on the sales transaction instead of on an annual basis like the general property tax. Transfer taxes may be assessed on either the buyer or the seller, but both are usually jointly and severely liable for the tax.
In many states, the realty transfer tax is used to fund programs designed to preserve open space in residential or commercial areas and to fund housing programs for low-incomes residents. Pennsylvania currently imposes a 1% tax, with an additional tax levied by school districts and municipalities. Generally speaking, the local transfer tax equals an additional 1%. In some home rule municipalities, this percentage may be higher.
Recent Developments: In July of 2013, thanks to the efforts of REALTORS® across the state, a last minute amendment that would have allowed local municipalities to increase the local portion of the Realty Transfer Tax by .5% to fund mass transit was defeated. Nearly 2,500 REALTORS® responded to a PAR Call-to-Action sending a strong message to legislators that an increase in the RTT is bad for consumers and for the real estate industry. The battle to keep an increased RTT out of the transportation spending bill isn’t over. PAR legislative staff believes we will be fighting this again in the fall, so watch for future Calls to Action.
PAR and Suburban REALTORS® Alliance believe that the RTT makes housing less affordable for everyone, from first-time homebuyers struggling to put together a down payment to senior citizens having to give up a portion of their equity to taxes when they downsize to a smaller home. In addition, we believe that RTT is poor public policy, especially when used as a tool to fund mass transit. Quite simply, there is no relationship between mass transit and real estate transactions. Homebuyers and sellers should not have to carry the burden of funding mass transit.
Suburban REALTORS® Alliance Position: The Alliance is opposed to increases in the current transfer tax for the following reasons:
- As the transfer tax is levied only on buyers and sellers of property, the burden per taxpayer is greater than the burden from a more broad-based tax designed to generate the same amount of revenue.
- Since public transportation is a benefit that is open to all members of society, the charge should not be placed solely on buyers and sellers of property.
- The transfer tax adds additional burdens on first-time home buyers saving for a down-payment and covering the closing costs and runs contrary to existing federal, state, and local programs including the mortgage interest deduction, low interest property maintenance loans, and grants to first time homebuyers.
- Currently the Pennsylvania Realty Transfer Tax exceeds that of six neighboring states including Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
- Pennsylvania has one of the highest transfer taxes in the nation. This distinction could contribute to the "brain-drain" effect and is not an attractive way to draw out-of-state homebuyers to the Commonwealth.
- The transfer tax is an unpredictable source of revenue due to fluctuating economic and housing market conditions.
In the 1990s there was a concerted effort by the Pennsylvania Builders Association to provide consistency among local building codes by advocating the enactment of a statewide building code. Prompting their lobbying efforts was the overall lack of uniformity; excessive codes in some municipalities, versus the lack of codes in others; and poorly trained inspectors.
In 1999, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted legislation mandating that all municipalities adopt a building code specified by the Department of Labor and Industry. After taking several years to adopt implementing regulations, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry adopted final rules, with an effective date of April 9, 2004. After April 9, municipalities had 120 days to determine whether to enforce the building code themselves, or opt for an alternative enforcement mechanism.
Key elements of the statute and regulations include:
- Establishes the International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) as the Uniform Construction Code for all municipalities;
- Local governments that adopted a building code that exceeds the IBC, prior to 1999, can retain these codes, but otherwise;
- Municipalities can exceed the IBC only if they apply for a special exemption to the Department of Labor and Industry; and
- Local inspectors must meet certain educational and experience requirements.
In general, the International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) apply to the renovation, alteration, construction and repair of buildings. As a result property owners and REALTORS® should know that:
- Construction, renovations, additions, alterations and repairs can fall under this Act, potentially driving up the cost of (or even ability to perform) certain projects.
- We are aware that a few municipalities have interpreted the UCC as requiring the enforcement of the National Fire Protection Act (NFPA) standards, which call for a Level II chimney, fireplace, vent, and solid fuel inspection upon the transfer of any property. While the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance has questions about the validity of enforcing these requirements under the auspices of the Uniform Construction Code, we are providing information about the impact of its enforcement for the benefit of our members and their clients.
According to the NFPA standards, a Level II inspection “shall include all accessible portions of the chimney exterior and interior, including areas within accessible attics, crawl spaces, and basements, and accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection. (It) shall also include inspection by video scanning or other means of inspection.”
The standards also reference the use of qualified and/or “certified” agencies. One municipality has interpreted this section to include only those agencies which have been certified by their Guild or National Certification Agency, while another will allow inspections by chimney inspectors who are registered with the Township.
To date, we have been advised of two local governments, Middletown Township (Bucks County), and Morrisville Borough (Bucks County), that are enforcing the Level II inspection requirement. To help you identify which inspectors are “certified” by their organization, we have included links to two separate organizations that maintain lists of certified inspectors:
Confusion still exists regarding one of the major changes to the UCC made by Act 92 of 2004, the exemption of residential alterations.
The General Assembly exempted from UCC permits (and inspections) all alterations to residential buildings not making structural changes or changes to the means of egress.
The greatest confusion seems to exist in the case of a residential basement alteration. If this work involves finishing the basement for sleeping rooms or recreational or other uses, no permit would be required if structural changes are not made and if the existing means of egress (the stairway to the first floor) is not altered.
Since no UCC requirements apply to this work, obviously, the means of emergency escape and rescue opening requirement (found in R310) cannot be imposed.
That above guidance noted, the amendments to the Uniform Construction Code also authorize municipalities to adopt ordinances providing for the regulation of alterations and repairs. Once a municipality adopts such an ordinance, homeowners may need to comply with the requirements of the International Residential Code in order to finish their basement.
A complete copy of the statute can be found at the following web address: http://www.dli.state.pa.us/landi/lib/landi/laws-regulations/bois/a-45.pdf
A complete copy of the implementing regulations, including what types of activities have been exempt from permit requirements (subject to local code requirements): http://www.dli.state.pa.us/landi/cwp/view.asp?a=310&q=211711
The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance has sent a survey to all 238 municipalities in the four county area to determine how they will enforce the UCC, with a particular emphasis on Level II inspections and enforcement policies against non-permitted uses/structures as part of a use and occupancy inspection. Questions about this issue can be directed to the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance staff at 610/981-9000, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
REALTORS® support the development and enforcement of reasonable fire prevention criteria for all types of real property. However, in general, REALTORS® believe that fire sprinkler requirements that are only focused on a narrow segment of a community's residential housing stock do little to promote health, safety and welfare of all citizens.
In 2006, several townships and boroughs in Delaware County (PA) attempted to enact fire sprinkler ordinances that are focused on an extremely narrow segment of their housing stock - new construction and homes that are converted from owner-occupied to rental units. Because of the limited application of these proposed ordinances, the safety benefit to the overall community would be minimal. Such requirements should be standardized and limited to correct true health and safety issues.
The high cost of retrofitting older homes with a fire sprinkler should also be taken into consideration. The Suburban REALTORS Alliance has researched the cost of retrofitting an older home (pre-1960 construction, 1200 sq. feet) with a sprinkler system. Quotes from local companies ranged from $10,000-15,000, or $8.33 to $12.50 per square foot.
The Alliance is concerned that Government mandates that require a sprinkler system could lead to a significant portion of a home's equity being stripped from its owner. For instance, the average sale price of a home in Sharon Hill (Delaware County) over the past year was $108,000. Requiring a $10,000-$15,000 fire sprinkler system in a home of this value would strip 10 to nearly 16 percent of the home's equity. This requirement would deter investment, and could limit the availability of affordable housing within the community. It could also place a great financial burden on existing homeowners who wish to sell their property.
The Alliance would like to suggest the following alternatives to address fire safety in a municipality:
- Strengthen and/or enforce existing smoke alarm ordinances. The use of smoke alarms, as required by the PA Uniform Construction Code (UCC), is an economical solution for older properties that can greatly reduce property loss, injury, and death from fire.
- Offset the high cost of sprinkler retrofits by providing a tax credit to any home owner who voluntarily installs a fire sprinkler system in an existing home. This type of tax credit for voluntary sprinkler retrofits exists in Montgomery County, MD. See http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/bill/2003/25-03.pdf
In January 2007, the PA Department of Labor and Industry (L & I) declared Sharon Hill's sprinkler ordinance "disapproved, null and void." L & I ruled that the section of Sharon Hill Ordinance 1311 requiring fire sprinklers in homes being converted from owner-occupied to rental units exceeded the minimum requirements set forth in the UCC. The ruling was in response to a challenge made by the Suburban REALTORS Alliance, PA Builders Association, the Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties, and several residents of the community.
The Borough failed to establish that "clear and convincing local climatic, geologic, and topographical or public health and safety circumstances or conditions" justified the exception to the UCC.
Sharon Hill does have fire safety standards in place for rental units. Rental dwellings are inspected once a year and are required to have a battery-operated smoke detector in each bedroom and on the first floor if it is a multi-unit/multi-floor property; rental dwellings are also required to have an electric operated smoke detector on the top of the second floor level and in the basement area. Under a 1997 Sharon Hill ordinance, new construction within the borough will still be required to be equipped with a sprinkler system.
It should be noted that several municipalities have fire sprinkler ordinances that predate the passage of the PA UCC.
The importance of the property assessment appeals process often goes overlooked by homeowners, and especially by owners of newly constructed homes. Owners of new homes have seen their property assessments lowered by thousands of dollars through the assessment appeals process. It is important to note that the assessed value of a property often does not mirror the true market value.
The appeals process is usually straight forward, and involves a home owner providing the county tax appeals board with recent market data (neighborhood home sales, appraisals, etc.) regarding their home's value. Based upon a short hearing and the documentation provided by the property owner, the board will determine a fair market value for the property. The board then applies the appropriate Common Level Ratio (CLR) to the fair market value to arrive at the new assessed value.
The Common Level Ratio (CLR) is a formula used in Pennsylvania that reflects a statistical computation of the average sales price versus the assessed value.1 It is designed to protect individuals who appeal their property tax. When you appeal your property tax, you are in effect asking your taxing authority (the county) to assign a market value to your house based on the evidence you submit. The value that the board assigns is 100% of what they think your house is worth. This value generally does not reflect the current assessed value of other homes in the area, because the county's assessment process usually lags the market by several years or more. The CLR is an attempt to take this disparity into account and "equalize" the taxes of those who appeal so that they pay at the same effective rate as the rest of the county.
Example: Property owner A appeals his assessment, and the county's tax appeals board assigns a value of $200,000 to his home. The appeals board then applies the CLR to that market value and comes up with an assessed value of $109,800. That becomes the basis for taxes at all three levels of taxation -- county, municipality, and school district. For example, in Chester County, the underlying premise of the CLR is to equalize homes assessed initially in 1998 (or whenever reassessment occurred) and those built and assessed today.
It is a property owner's right to appeal their assessment. There are two basic types of appeals: 1) Annual appeals, which are available to all property owners; and 2) interim appeals for new construction or additions that increase the property's value.
For more information about appealing a property's assessment, please contact your county's tax assessment office. For more information on the Tax Equalization Division, visit http://www.newpa.com/local-government/boards-committees/tax-equalization-division/#.WJS4ofIb2DQ. This site includes a history of the CLR for each county in Pennsylvania.
1 The CLR is posted on July 1. For more information on the Common Level Ratio go to visit this site.
The Pennsylvania “Uniform Municipal Deed Registration Act” prohibits municipalities from requiring deed registration at the local level prior to recording of the original deed with the County Recorder of Deeds. Under this law, municipalities can enact an ordinance that would require the deed to be registered with the municipality within two days of registering with the county. The state legislation limits the fee that municipalities can charge for deed registration at $10.
The "Uniform Municipal Deed Registation Act" is intended to prohibit municipalities from requiring the registration of deeds prior to recording in the County Recorder of Deeds office. The law accomplishes this by requiring the owner or the “agent” working on behalf of the owner to register the deed with the municipality within two days of recording the deed with the county. The legislation was drafted in response to some municipalities holding up deed registration to force compliance with their use and occupancy requirements. Many municipalities are passing ordinances to ensure compliance with the law. In keeping with the original language, the municipalities require the owner or agent acting on behalf of the owner to register the deed within the two day limit prescribed by law.
The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance has sent a survey to all 238 municipalities in the four county area to determine which have adopted Municipal Deed Registation oridnances. Responses will be posted in the municipal information section. Questions about this issue can be directed to the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance staff at 610/981-9000, or email@example.com.
The Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act, the Real Estate Seller's Disclosure Act, the Planned Communities Act, and the Co-Op and Condominium Act provide ample guidance regarding licensees' obligations to their clients, and establish penalties for non-compliance. Thus, local disclosure ordinances are an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy for real estate licensees and consumers of real estate services.
Prospective purchasers are best served when they are advised of issues that could impact their decision about whether to purchase the property. Prospective purchasers could then choose to consult with an appropriate professional or government official to ensure they receive appropriate documentation to make an informed decision.
Municipalities wishing to develop local disclosure ordinances must be prepared to participate in the dissemination and explanation of zoning information to prospective purchasers. If a real estate licensee provides advice and/or opinions about local zoning code, it could be construed as an unauthorized practice of law.
In 2006 Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill intended to provide significant local tax relief. Entitled "Act 1 of Special Session 2005-2006," the bill creates new opportunities for local taxpayers and school districts, including targeted tax relief to some groups of taxpayers, and the ability for voters to approve (or disapprove) major local school tax increases. Because Act 1 relies upon local action and voter approval, it is important that citizens learn about the act, what it does and does not do, and how they can influence its implementation in their own community.
Act 1 is intended to reduce the real property tax burden on homeowners and on farmers, and involves several important components:
1. Targeted real property tax reductions via the Homestead & Farmstead exclusions
2. Real property tax and rent rebates for low income seniors
3. Reimbursement to school districts who lose income tax revenues to Philadephia
4. Wage tax reductions in Philadelphia
5. Voter approval for future large tax increases (called "Back End" referendum)
The tax reductions and reimbursements will be paid for with state gaming revenues, and in districts which choose to provide larger reductions, with higher local income taxes. It is important to note that Act 1 is a tax shift rather than an overall tax cut, since the targeted reductions are paid for by these two sources of new revenue.
Since 2006, districts have had 10 exceptions they could apply for without receiving voter approval. Now, only four exceptions are allowed: pension, special education, prior school construction, and grandfathered debt. The exceptions that have been eliminated are heath care benefits, maintenance of local tax revenue, maintenance of selected revenue sources, school improvement plan and school construction.
Act 1 each year limits the percentage by which school districts can raise local real estate taxes. If districts exceed this limit, they must ask voters for approval. Even if a district conforms to the Act 1 limits, taxes can still go up.
PA Act 1 requires school districts to begin the budget process early. Final Budget adoption is not required until June of each year, however, school districts are required to prepare a “Preliminary Budget” months before revenue and expenditure data are most accurate. The adoption of a Preliminary Budget lets the public know the official budget process has started. Over the course of the months between adoption of a Preliminary Budget and adoption of a Proposed Budget, goals for the new school year are defined, data is refined, items are prioritized, staff is aligned with need and the public and school community provide input to the Board of School Directors for decision making.
Act 1, Budget process for School Districts:
- December: Approval to Publicly Post Initial Expenditure Budget
- January: Adjust December Budget and Board Adoption of Preliminary Budget
- February, March, April: Revise Preliminary Budget
- Approval to Publicly Post the Preliminary Final Budget
- June: Board Final Adoption of the Budget
Protecting homeownership and the innate rights that come with it are basic tenets of our commitment to our REALTOR® members and their clients. The Suburban Realtors Alliance embraces zoning and land use principles that provide and encourage livable communities that meet the needs of consumers.
Zoning is generally defined as the legislative division of a community into areas where only certain designated uses of land are permitted. However, zoning has grown to involve more than just dividing a community into use districts; it also regulates matters such as the size of structures, dimensions of land to be occupied by structures, and population density.
The Suburban REALTORS Alliance believes that any land-use planning must:
- Respect the rights of individual property owners.
- Maintain and support property values.
- Take into consideration the need for livable communities in Pennsylvania.
- Create and maintain affordable housing opportunities.
- Allow the free market to be the principal way in which the use of land is determined.
- Respect the diversity in land use, planning, zoning, and environmental factors in the region.
A livable community equitably serves residents of all ages, ability levels, incomes, races, ethnicities, and other backgrounds. Livable communities include essential features that allow residents to thrive. These include mixed-use zoning, safe and varied transportation options, a diversity of housing types, public spaces, and access to essential businesses and services.
Joint Municipal Planning
The Alliance supports the general goal of encouraging coordination among municipalities and counties in their land-use planning. The SRA also believes an inherent goal of joint municipal planning should be a more user-friendly, predictable, and uniform environment for constituents and the regulated community.
The Alliance supports the goal of encouraging general consistency between municipal comprehensive plans and municipal zoning ordinances and between municipal plans and county plans.
The Alliance supports the goal of having new development occur concurrently with transportation infrastructure and supply and treatment capacity for municipal sewer and water systems. However, concurrency requirements should not become a means by which a municipality can block or unfairly delay development.
Growth Boundaries/Locally Designated Growth Areas/Public Infrastructure Areas
The Alliance is opposed to the creation of artificial growth boundaries that could decrease affordable housing opportunities, devalue properties, and cause development to "leapfrog" such areas into more rural regions.
Pennsylvania law says that land use must be consistent with the comprehensive plan of that municipality or joint municipal authority, provided that the participating municipalities zone consistently with that plan and as long as existing uses are permitted within a reasonable distance.
A permitted use or a “use by right” is a use that is allowed as long as the landowner meets all of the other requirements of the particular zoning category. Permitted uses allow for the use that is intended by the designation.
Traditional Neighborhood Developments
The Alliance supports the incorporation of Traditional Neighborhood Developments into municipal land use and subdivision ordinances as an alternative housing option.
The Alliance believes some of the difficulties associated with suburban sprawl are a result of traffic congestion caused by inadequate transportation options. To alleviate the problems associated with traffic, the Alliance supports a reliable, well maintained, and efficient road network and transportation options to support those living and working in the region.
When appropriate, the Alliance supports transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD includes a mix of commercial, residential, office and entertainment centered around or located near a transit station. Dense, walkable, mixed-use development near transit attracts people and contributes to vibrant, connected communities.
Pedestrian Accessibility in Communities
Communities can promote beneficial pedestrian activity by featuring public infrastructure that is safe, well-maintained and accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Such infrastructure can encourage the use of public transportation, cut down on vehicular traffic, and boost activity that is beneficial for residents, local businesses and the well-being of the community. The Alliance supports pedestrian accessibility policies that are implemented in a uniform manner and are not linked to real estate transactions. For instance, ordinances that require the construction or repair of sidewalks at the point-of-sale are not supported by the Alliance.
The Suburban Realtors Alliance recognizes that the cost and availability of housing is intrinsically related to the supply and accessibility of financing. We therefore support:
- Local, state, and federal programs that assist those who wish to attain homeownership, at all economic levels
- Public policy to encourage private investment to develop housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households
- Government-sponsored or insured programs that encourage and assist first-time homebuyers
- Zoning that encourages the development of housing near employment and transportation centers
- Comprehensive plans in each county addressing how they intend to meet future housing needs
- Redevelopment of non-residential properties to create additional attainable housing opportunities
Fees in Lieu/Dedication of Open Space
The Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) allows local governments to impose fees or require the dedication of land to minimize a development's impact on the community.
Open Space Preservation
The Alliance supports open space preservation efforts as long as property owners are willing sellers and receive fair market compensation for the value of their property.
The Alliance supports the protection of private property rights in balance with environmental laws, municipal ordinances, regulations, and land management practices that preserve the environment and its natural resources.
A change in the allowable use of land by the appropriate zoning authority to a lesser (usually less valuable) use. Downzoning may limit the number or size or buildings on an area of land or may limit the type of business or activities that may take place there.
Transferable Development Rights (TDR)
The Alliance believes the use of Transferable Development Rights should be done on a voluntary basis, and that government should create incentives for property owners to preserve their land through this method.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a smaller, independent residential dwelling unit located on the same lot as a stand-alone single-family home. Internal, attached, and detached ADUs all have the potential to increase housing attainability (both for homeowners and tenants), create a wider range of housing options within the community, enable seniors to stay near family as they age, and facilitate better use of the existing housing stock in established neighborhoods. Consequently, many cities and counties have signaled support for ADUs in their plans and adopted zoning regulations that permit ADUs in low-density residential areas.
A land bank is an entity created by the government or a nonprofit group to help manage and dispose of vacant land, foreclosed or tax-delinquent properties. Proponents of land banks encourage redevelopment practices that can transform local areas to meet local community needs.
Impact fees (also known as development fees) are typically imposed by local governments on real estate developments to offset public expenditures used to accommodate new growth in the local community.
The eminent domain issue came to the forefront of national interest in Kelo et al v. City of New London, 125 S. Ct. 2655 (2005). The United States Supreme Court decided to uphold the use of eminent domain power by the City of New London, Connecticut, for the purpose of seizing private property for a public use. Of concern is a portion of the Supreme Court's decision that suggests economic redevelopment plans may now satisfy the "public use" requirement of the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution, from which state and local governments derive authority to take private property in exchange for just compensation. Under Kelo, state or local governments may now be permitted to lawfully take private property and transfer it to another private owner, provided the second owner is going to upgrade or improve the property's use.
In Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell signed legislation regarding property rights into law. Senate Bill 881, the Property Rights Protection Act, generally prohibits the taking of property for private enterprise, while maintaining the right of a government body to use eminent domain powers for public uses such as roads. The new law also redefines the standards under which a property can be declared blighted and taken for redevelopment, while also setting a time limit on the blight declaration. House Bill 2054, a companion bill, sets a structure for the revised eminent domain code by defining the process by which properties can be condemned, outlining the process of notification, and establishing the parameters for required compensation. In a deal that allowed the bills to be unanimously approved, legislators reached compromises that provide several exceptions. Under these exceptions, municipalities, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester and Norristown, can still condemn properties in areas that have already been designated as blighted. The exemption expired in 2012.
We believe that a government's use of the eminent domain power should be extremely limited. In addition, the Alliance will continue to closely monitor any situation where eminent domain is utilized. The Alliance strives to protect individual property rights.