Category Archives: Landlord/Tenant

PA College towns are enforcing rental ordinances targeting student disruptive conduct.

As students return for the fall semester in many Pennsylvania universities and colleges, there are traditional welcome back parties. On campus, campus police regulates parties but off campus parties are less controlled and typically louder and wilder events. After several weekends of rowdy wild off campus parties which disturbed neighbors, led to underage drinking, fighting, arrests and saw a number of students taken to hospitals for alcohol consumption, the City of Bethlehem decided to enforce a city rental ordinance that had been on the books for almost twenty years but rarely used.

The city ordinance essential provides that a code enforcement officer may direct a landlord to evict a tenant if the tenant has been cited with three “disruptive conduct” violations within a year. The ordinance defines “disruptive conduct” as any form of conduct that is a violation of existing city ordinances and/or state law where the Police have issued a Citation and the Citation has been successfully prosecuted or a guilty plea entered before a District Justice.

The ordinance is clearly focused on controlling disruptive student behavior and is limited to regulated rental units occupied by three or more non-blood related persons, but no more than five, under the same lease agreement.

Under the ordinance, each lease agreement must include a provision notifying the tenants of the ordinance and the risk of eviction. Most lease agreements already have some provision requiring a tenant to obey all local and state ordinances but those provisions are general focused on the use of the premises in compliance with city zoning ordinances and not the conduct of the tenant.

Bethlehem’s ordinance is based on a similar ordinance from the City of Bloomsburg with was upheld by the U.S. District Courts for the Middle District Of Pennsylvania. In Bloomsburg Landlords Ass’n v. Town Of Bloomsburg, 912 F. Supp. 790 (M.D. Pa 1995), aff’d 96 F.3d 1431 (3rd Cir. 1996), the landlord association filed a complaint contending that the Bloomsburg Ordinance violated the state and federal constitutional rights of its members. The association alleged: 1) violation of their rights under Article I, Section 10(1) [Article I, Section 10(1) provides that no state shall make any law “impairing the obligation of contracts”] and the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution under section 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 2) violation of their rights under Article 8, Section 1[All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws] of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In summary, the U.S. District Court held that: 1) the ordinance was not vague or overly broad; 2) the municipality may constitutionally regulate the number of unrelated individuals who may occupy a single family dwelling so long as as the ordinance was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, specifically, preventing disturbing conduct; 3) the ordinance was not a violation of the landlords’ substantive due process guarantees under the 5th and 14th amendment as it was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest; 4) the ordinance was not a taking in violation of the 5th amendment as the ordinance substantially advances a legitimate state interests and does not deny an owner economically viable use of his land; and 5) that the licensing fee requirement of the ordinance was not a tax and not in violation of Pennsylvania’s constitutional prohibition against non-uniform taxes.

The U.S. District Court also rejected the argument that students were a protected class subject to protection from discrimination under the equal protection clause.

Other Pennsylvania cities and municipalities have similar rental ordinances, including State College, Reading, Kutztown, Allentown and Easton. In Easton, where Lafayette College is located, only two violations for disruptive behavior are required before a landlord is directed to evict the tenant.

Neighbors tired of the late noise and disruptive conduct appreciate the rental ordinances. At the same time, landlords who rent to students on a seasonal basis complain that the ordinances are punitive causing loss of revenues in mid lease.

The effectiveness of the ordinances is debatable. College students are not going to stop throwing parties. However, as long as the ordinances are rationally related to protecting the public and eliminating disruptive conduct, the ordinances will continue to be enforced in Pennsylvania.

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A Pennsylvania tenant’s right to recover a security deposit.

Under Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, 68 P.S. ‘250.101, et. Seq., a landlord may require a security deposit to be held for tenant caused damages and possible past due rent. See 68 P.S. §250.511 and §250.512. A security deposit is not the same as rent. It is money that actually belongs to the tenant, but is held by the landlord for tenant-caused damages and sometimes past-due rent. Without the agreement of the landlord, a security deposit may not legally be used as the last month’s rent.

Pennsylvania law places a limit on the amount of a security deposit that a landlord may require. Under 68 P.S. §250.511a (a), no landlord may require a sum in excess of two months’ rent to be deposited in escrow for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and/or default in rent thereof during the first year of any lease. During the second and subsequent years of the lease or during any renewal of the original lease the amount required to be deposited may not exceed one month’s rent. See 68 P.S. §250.511a (b). At the beginning of the second year of a lease the landlord may not keep a security deposit equal to more than one month’s rent and must return any money greater than one month’s rent still being held as a deposit. See 68 P.S. §250.511a (c) After five years the landlord cannot increase a security deposit even if the monthly rent is increased. 68 P.S. §250.511a (d).

Pennsylvania also regulates where residential security deposits must be kept and when interest payments on the security deposits must be made to the tenant. Security deposit monies in excess of $100 and held more than two years must be deposited by the landlord in an approved bank, and the tenant must be notified in writing where the bank and deposit is located. See 68 P.S. §250.511b (a). A landlord is entitled to receive as administrative expenses, a sum equivalent to one per cent per annum upon the security money so deposited, which shall be in lieu of all other administrative and custodial expenses. The balance of the interest paid shall be the money of the tenant making the deposit and will be paid to the tenant annually upon the anniversary date of the commencement of his lease. See 68 P.S. §250.511b (b).

After termination the lease or upon surrender of the lease and acceptance by the landlord of the leasehold premises, a landlord must provide a tenant with a written list of any damages to the leasehold premises for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable. Delivery of the list shall be accompanied by payment of the difference between any sum deposited in escrow, including any unpaid interest thereon, for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and the actual amount of damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant. See 68 P.S. §250.512.

Reasonable wear and tear caused by a tenant’s lawful use of the lead premises is not damages. In 1979, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court officially recognized that an Warranty of Habitability that is implied in every residential lease agreement. Pugh v. Holmes, 486 Pa. 272, 405 A.2d 897 (1979). The Supreme Court decided that landlords who rent property for people to live in must make sure such property is “safe, sanitary and fit for human habitation.” A landlord’s obligations under the Warranty of Habitability cannot be taken from a tenant even if you sign a lease that says you are renting the property “as is” or that you are responsible for all repairs.

The warranty implies that the landlord has placed the rented premises in a livable conditions prior to the occupancy by the tenant; or that he will do so within a reasonable time after the occupancy of the demised residence; that the facilities will remain usable during the entire term of the lease and that the landlord will maintain the demised premises in a condition which will render the premises livable. Any repairs made necessary by reasonable wear and tear are the responsibility of the landlord. Derr v. Cangemi, 66 Pa. D & C 2nd 162 (1974).

A landlord is responsible for all normal wear and tear and must bear that cost as part of the implied Warranty of Habitability whenever he leases a property to a tenant. A landlord can not pass on normal wear and tear expenses to a tenant. Deluca v. Matthews, 2015 Pa. Dist & Cnty. Dec. Lexis 14718.

Assuming that there are valid damages, a landlord must refund the security deposit less the cost of the repairs on the list. If the landlord fails to do this, the tenant cannot be sued for any damages the landlord claims the tenant caused. In addition, if the landlord does not give the tenant this 30-day response, the tenant may sue for double the amount of the security deposit. In order to be able to sue for double the deposit, the tenant must give the landlord written notice of his or her new address once the tenant has moved out. See 68 P.S. §250.512.

Under 68 P.S. §250.512 (e), failure of the tenant to provide the landlord with his new address in writing upon termination of the lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises shall relieve the landlord from any liability under this section.

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Is it Time to Appeal Your Property Assessment?

Your home or business property tax bill may have arrived recently and like many of us, you wonder if you are paying more than your fair share.  How do you tell?  What can you do?

What is an assessment?

In Pennsylvania, real estate assessment is the value the county assigns to your property.  The assessment is used to determine how much you pay in real estate (school, municipal, and county) property taxes.

How much is my assessment?

Your property tax bill normally identifies the amount of your assessment.  You can also obtain the amount of your property tax assessment from your county tax office or its website.

Is my assessment fair?

The assessment, which is different than the appraised value of your property and in most cases does not equal 100 percent of the fair market value of your property, is established by the county once every few years and remains fixed as property values move up and down. So if your assessment is too high, either because it was originally assessed too high or because of a decrease in your property’s value, you are paying too much in taxes each year that the assessment remains the same.

Identify the current common level ratio for the county in which your property is located, normally from the county assessment office’s website.  Pennsylvania sets the common level ratio for each county annually.  It is the percentage of the market value at which properties should be assessed.

Multiply your estimated fair market value by the common level ratio to determine what you believe the assessment should be for your property.

Compare that to the county assessment.

Should I file an appeal?

You have the right to file an assessment appeal annually.  However, your taxes could increase if it is determined that your assessment was low.  If you believe your assessment is no fair, it is helpful to conduct additional research to identify a few comparable properties with lower assessments before filing an appeal.  We can assist you with identifying appraisers, real estate agents, and comparable properties to help you make an informed decision on whether to appeal this year.

Filing an Appeal

We are happy to assist clients to file an assessment appeal, prepare for and participate in the hearing, and appeal the assessment board decision, if necessary.  The annual deadline for filing of an assessment appeal varies by county but generally are in July or August.

Contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin and the team at Prince Law Offices, P.C. for more information and to discuss your real estate assessment with one of our attorneys.

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Safety First – Call Before You Dig

 

PA One Call“The arrival of warmer spring weather often marks an increase in construction and home renovation across the state, making this a prime time to highlight the importance of safe digging practices,” noted Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr. during the Commission’s Public Meeting today. “Every year, there are approximately 6,000 hits on our underground infrastructure across the state, and each one of these poses a risk to contractors, utility workers and bystanders, along with the possibility of service In conjunction with National Safe Digging Month, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today reminded homeowners, businesses and contractors of the importance of dialing 8-1-1 before digging to help ensure the safety of their excavation projects.interruptions, environmental damage and costly repairs to damaged lines.”

State law requires contractors and residents to contact the PA One Call system at least three business days prior to excavation – triggering alerts to all utilities within an intended digging area and prompting them to mark where their facilities are located. Pennsylvanians can dial 8-1-1 puc_sealto connect with the One Call system, while non-Pennsylvania residents can dial 1-800-242-1776.

“We urge everyone involved in excavation projects – whether it’s a small backyard improvement project or a large construction site – to ensure that utilities are marked before any digging begins,” Commission Coleman added. “A single call to 8-1-1 can go a long way toward preventing a potential tragedy or avoiding costly delays or repairs to underground utility lines.”

Governor Wolf and leaders from numerous counties across Pennsylvania have proclaimed April to be Pennsylvania One Call System Safe Digging Month, underscoring the invaluable nature of this service.

To learn how Prince Law Offices, P.C. can assist you or your business with real estate, construction, or PUC matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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First Step to Starting Your Business

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Prince Law Offices, P.C. attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin will be presenting at “First Step to Starting Your Business” in cooperation with the Kutztown University of Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center.
First Step to Starting Your Business (Lancaster, PA)
Date:Fri, February 17, 10:30am – 12:30pm
Point of Contact: Kutztown SBDC (877) 472-7232
Fee: None
Location: 454 New Holland Ave Suite 300 Lancaster, PA 17602
This workshop covers a number of critical issues relevant to starting and operating a small business. Professional presenters include attorneys, insurance agents, accountants, financial specialists and zoning and codes staff. The workshop is designed for both entrepreneurs thinking about opening their first business and existing business owners looking for a “checkup”.
Desire more specific assistance regarding your business formation, agreements, intellectual property, trademarks, zoning, real estate law, cyber security, insurance, etc., contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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Filed under Business Law, Communications Law, Computer Law, Consumer Advocacy, Energy Law, Firearms Law, Landlord/Tenant, News & Events, Pennsylvania Firearms Law, Real Estate, Trademark and Copyright

Join Us at GlobalCon Energy Expo

gloabalcon_logo_white_2017

The GLOBALCON Expo will emphasize four critical areas of leading edge technology and related services:

  • Energy Management, HVAC and Smart Building Systems
  • Renewables, Alternative Energy and Onsite Generation
  • Lighting Efficiency and Integrated Energy Solutions
  • Plant and Facilities Management

GLOBALCON 2017, presented by the Association of Energy Engineers, is designed specifically to facilitate those seeking to expand their knowledge of fast-moving developments in the energy field, explore promising new technologies, compare energy supply options, and learn about innovative and cost-conscious project implementation strategies.  Get a Free Expo exhibits only pass for a limited time here: GLOBALCON Expo

March 22-23, 2017

Pennsylvania Convention Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Desire more specific assistance regarding CHP, Solar; renewable energy projects, energy law, or real estate law, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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SUNSHOT $$$ PRIZE: SOLAR IN YOUR COMMUNITY CHALLENGE

solar-in-your-community-challenge-heroThe SunShot Prize: Solar in Your Community Challenge is a prize competition that aims to expand solar electricity access to all Americans, especially underserved segments such as low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, state, local, and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations. In order to make solar more accessible and inclusive for every American, the Challenge works to spur the development of new and innovative financial and business models that serve non-rooftop solar users such as community solar.

Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the Challenge supports teams across the country to develop projects or programs that expand solar access to underserved groups, while proving that these business models can be widely replicated and adopted by similar groups.

Participation in the Challenge is open to:

  • Teams working to develop a portfolio of solar projects in their communities or create new solar programs that extend solar access to LMI households and nonprofits; and
  • Technical assistance providers (consultants and coaches) that assist teams throughout the 18-month challenge by providing the coaching and resources teams need to create innovative new business models.

The Solar in Your Community Challenge is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and administered by The State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute. Visit the Challenge website to learn more, apply, and get involved.

STRUCTURE AND PRIZES

Teams selected to participate in the challenge may receive three distinct types of awards: seed awards, technical assistance vouchers, and final prizes.

Teams will compete to win $1 million in Final Prizes, including a $500,000 Grand Prize for success in demonstrating a replicable and scalable model for low income solar. In addition, selected teams will receive approximately 50 cash seed awards totaling $2 million, and benefit from technical assistance resources and mentoring worth an additional $2 million. Teams will be evaluated based on their innovation, impact, expertise, team composition, plan, and progress. As teams are selected, seed awards (up to $60,000 per team) will be disbursed in increments based on completed milestones over an 18-month performance period.

In addition to final prizes, technical assistance providers (consultants and coaches) will be compensated depending on the extent to which challenge teams choose to use their services throughout the 18-month performance period.

Learn more about the prizes on the Challenge’s website.

RULES

Competing teams need to design and deploy new and scalable business and financial models through the demonstration of solar projects and programs in their communities. These projects and programs must directly benefit:

  • LMI households, with at least 20% of the energy and benefits assigned to LMI households; or
  • Non-profit organizations; state, local, or tribal governments; or community service organizations, with at least 60% of the energy and benefits assigned to one of these types of entities.

Photovoltaic (PV) systems must be completed during the 18-month performance period and should aggregate between 25 and 5,000 kilowatts (peak DC capacity). A single entity cannot not be assigned more than 1,000 kilowatts from a single solar energy system.

While 20% LMI customers is the minimum, teams with over 50% LMI customers will receive a bonus cash prize. DOE will also show preference for teams that aim to reach 100% LMI households or have 100% of the energy benefit nonprofit/governmental organizations as outlined in the evaluation criteria for winning prizes.

Read the official rules and learn more on the Challenge’s website.

TIMELINE

Release of Official Rules: November 18, 2016
Informational Webinar: November 29, 2016, 2:00pm ET
Early Application Deadline: January 6, 2017
Application Deadline: March 17, 2017
Late-Start Application Deadline: August 1, 2017
Seed Funding and Vouchers Awarded: April 2017
Technical Assistance Marketplace Opens: April 2017
18-month Performance Period Begins: May 1, 2017
18-month Performance Period Ends: October 31, 2018
Accepting Applications for Final Prizes: November 2018
Announcements of Final Prizes Winners (Expected): January 2019

Desire more specific assistance regarding CHP, Solar; renewable energy projects, energy law, or real estate law, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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