Over the last decade, Pennsylvania has passed several important pieces of legislation that give communities more resources and authority to combat blight. Below is specific legislation that is important in developing a comprehensive code enforcement system and additional authorities that have been granted to municipalities.
“The International Property Maintenance Code allows municipalities to adopt an up-to-date code that contains clear and specific requirements governing the maintenance of buildings. Municipalities can modify the code in any way they choose—adding or deleting provisions to serve their unique needs. The code presents the minimum health and safety requirements for existing buildings, structures, and property. It prohibits common blighting influences, such as the accumulation of trash, high weeds, and derelict vehicles. Property owners who violate the code are notified in writing of the reasons for a violation and are given a reasonable time period to comply..” Source: From Blight to Bright (2016)
The Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act specifies instances where properties may be issued a temporary access certificate, temporary use and occupancy certificates, or denied certificates of use and occupancy at the point of property resale based on different degrees of property code violation severity.
The Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act (Act 90, 2010) provides a variety of powerful tools to fight blight to take action against property owners whose property is in serious code violation or whose property is determined to be a public nuisance. Under Act 90 (2010), municipalities may:
- place a lien against the personal assets of an owner of real property that is in serious violation of a building code or is regarded as a public nuisance,
- take property owners to court, to seek judgments against an owner’s assets,
- deny municipal permits (included building permits and zoning approvals) to property owners who have other property within the municipality in similar violation or who are behind in taxes or other municipal service accounts such as water, sewer or refuse collection,
- require property owners to remedy existing violations and/or delinquencies with regard to other property they own in the municipality prior to being granted municipal permits for future projects,
- extradite out-of-state property owners back to Pennsylvania to be charged with property-related violations, and magisterial districts may establish housing courts to use the authorities granted in PA Act 90 (2010), municipalities must adopt ordinances specifying the authorities it is adopting. We have an example draft model ordinance to implement Act 90.
In 2014, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) analyzed the impact that the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, Act 90 (2010), had in Philadelphia, in Strategic Property Code Enforcement and its Impacts on Surrounding Markets. The study also examined Philadelphia’s “Windows and Doors” ordinance which was struck down in 2016 by the Commonwealth Court. The Court found that the requirement to have working doors and windows rather than boarding with plywood or other material was for aesthetic reasons rather than health and safety.B
The Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act was passed in 2008. Specific amendments were made in 2014. The concept of conservatorship is easy to understand: In response to a request from a petitioner, a judge may designate a conservator—a responsible private or nonprofit entity—to bring a blighted property into compliance with property maintenance and building codes. The process leading to a conservatorship action can be complicated. As community leaders become more knowledgeable about the use of conservatorship as a blight elimination strategy, we believe that this tool has the potential to become more widely used, producing beneficial outcomes for everyone concerned about eliminating blight and revitalizing communities.
The purpose of The Conservatorship Handbooks are to help community leaders make use of this tool for restoring neglected properties to productive use and increase their potential to become valued assets in neighborhood real estate markets. The Handbooks are designed to help community leaders gain a better understanding of the conservatorship process so that they can take full advantage of the powers available through Act 135. As community leaders become more knowledgeable about the use of conservatorship as a blight elimination strategy, we believe that this tool has the potential to become more widely used, producing beneficial outcomes for everyone concerned about eliminating blight and revitalizing communities. Three handbooks were developed: a general handbook, and handbooks for Philadelphia County and Allegheny County.
- Example case in Philadelphia – Petition for Conservatorship
- Example case in Pittsburgh – Petition for Conservatorship
Court Orders and Opinions Examples
- City of Bethlehem Commonwealth Court Opinion
- Columbia County Redevelopment Authority – Final Order- Special Warranty Deed
- Germantown Conservancy Appeal Commonwealth Court Opinion
- Girardville Borough Pleadings and Court Order
- Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation Commonwealth Court Opinion
The PA Land Bank Act 153 of 2012 authorizes counties and municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more to establish land banks, a flexible and optional tool meant to help strengthen our cities and towns by enabling them to systematically remove problem properties from an endless cycle of vacancy, abandonment, and tax foreclosure, and return them to productive use. Land banks can engage in bulk quiet-title proceedings so that title insurance could be obtained and title would be marketable. They also address a vast inventory of problem properties that need to be cleared of debts, maintained, made available for private purchase, and managed where real estate markets are weak or distressed. The Center for Community Progress has many great resources for land banks and for those thinking about establishing a land bank.
The PA Land Bank Resource Guide walks through the specifics of the Pennsylvania Land Bank laws including the benefits of creating a land bank and the requirements of land banks. Visit the PA Department of Community and Economic Developments’ Land Banks and Blight website to learn more about specific state requirements and access a sample ordinance for creating a land bank.
For those exploring the potential of establishing a land bank in their community, we have included example documents from other land banks and information on some of the ways land banks can acquire properties.
There are several requirements for developing a land bank. One is executing an Intergovernmental Agreement between the municipality(ies), county, and school district(s). This requires relationship building and may take some time. Here are a few examples.
There are multiple ways a Land Bank can acquire properties. We present summary explanations on a couple of those options.
- Purchasing Properties at Tax Sale Under the Real Estate Tax Sale Law – Memo
- Purchasing Properties at a Traditional Tax Sale – Flow Chart
- Purchasing Properties at Tax Sale Under the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law – Memo
- Purchasing Properties at a Traditional Tax Sale Under the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law – Flow Chart
- Purchasing Properties at a 3rd Class City Treasurer Sale – Flow Chart
- Property Donation – Flow Chart