|Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales & Municipal Claims|
AUTHORS: DARRELL M. ZASLOW and MONTGOMERY L. WILSON
FORMERLY AUTHORED BY: CYRIL A. FOX, JR.
and W. EDWARD SELL
Published: April, 2016 (Previous Edition by Darrell M Zaslow: 2014)
Most recent supplement/update: N/A
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2014942500
1 VOLUME, SOFT-COVER, PRICE: $188.00
PREFACE by Darrell M. Zaslow
The laws in Pennsylvania governing liens for real estate tax and municipal claims are rooted in centuries of history. The procedures to assess an owner’s real property, and to take that property from an owner for failure to pay taxes duly assessed, or municipal claims duly registered, are highly technical and intricate. A patchwork of statutes are applied to Pennsylvania’s multifaceted governmental units. The several classes of counties and municipalities have their own rules and regulations. The language of the statutes are sometimes obtuse and archaic, and a review of the case law makes it clear that the Courts are at times forced to struggle with overlapping concepts and procedures. Twenty-first Century amendments and enactments are geared towards simplifying the procedures, for the ease of the creditor government, while implementing protections for property owners aggrieved by a claim, whether in assessment, notification, or general enforcement.
The increasing failure of governments at every level to function within their tax revenues has resulted in an increased focus on enforcement of liens and claims. Voters distraught over government spending and tax increases demand that government collect existing taxes and claims before raising taxes or dreaming up new tax schemes. Philadelphia, by way of example as the largest governmental unit, is owed at least a half-billion dollars, and that’s after write-offs of older claims left uncollected for decades. The economic struggle of many property owners to pay their ever-increasing taxes and make good on municipal claims against them just exacerbates the problem. Taxpayers and their savvy attorneys seek to prevail against claims ineptly brought by a municipality, while elected officials seek to push back just as hard on collections and reassessments. All things considered, it would be better if this book was not necessary; perhaps someday all claims and taxes will be assessed with precise fairness and uniformity, and will be timely paid by dutiful taxpayers. In the meantime the struggle continues on all sides.
Just as the laws governing Pennsylvania real estate tax sales and municipal claims have a long history, so does this book. It had its first incarnation in 1948, as the first textbook ever written on the subject, by the esteemed Lester S. Hecht, Esq., of the Philadelphia Bar. An expanded and updated version was written by Mr. Hecht in 1966, with many changes including the new-fangled concepts of condominium law in the Unit Property Act of 1963. In the year 2000, two esteemed Professors of the Law rewrote and updated the book. Cyril A. Fox, of the University of Pittsburgh, and the late W. Edward Sell, Dean Emeritus, are credited with creation of this book as it now appears. It is an honor to have played a role in the publication of this latest attempt to illuminate the otherwise dark corners of Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales and Municipal Claims.
It is a pleasure to welcome Montgomery L. Wilson, Esq. as co-author of this edition. As described below, Monty hails from Community Legal Services. I have had the distinction to represent HAPCO, the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, for 38 years. HAPCO is the largest organization representing owners of residential rental property in the Commonwealth, and is a constituent member of PROA, the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association. Throughout the last four decades, the primary antagonists in matters pertaining to landlord/tenant law have been HAPCO and Community Legal Services. Throughout countless legal and legislative matters, we have been on opposite sides of nearly every issue. To join together with Monty and all of his cohorts at CLS named below, for purposes of this publication, represents cooperation at the highest level, all for the benefit of the Law and good government.
PREFACE by Montgomery L. Wilson
I began working at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Inc. (CLS) in 2001 as an attorney defending residential mortgage foreclosures and “predatory lending” cases. As far as I know, at that time no one in the “public interest” world was assisting homeowners facing the possible loss of their homes due to delinquent property taxes. This included CLS until the 2009 recession, when the City of Philadelphia announced that it would begin “aggressively” collecting delinquent property taxes, and scores of homeowners began coming to our office seeking help with this new kind of “foreclosure.” I owe my first thanks to CLS’s former executive director, Cathy Carr, Esq., who asked me to attend “just one meeting” with her in 2009 about property taxes and who had the vision and will to see that the legal issues around property tax collection often involved helping low-income families preserve their homes—making it an issue that public interest lawyers should focus on. I also owe a debt to Michael Froehlich, Esq., Elizabeth Goodell, Esq., and the rest of the members of the Consumer Housing Unit at CLS who allowed me the time to explore this new area of law, including the time to draft this update. In particular, I am grateful to Michelle Brix, George Gould, Esq. and Jennifer Schultz, Esq. at CLS who have worked tirelessly along with me and without whom much of this work could not have been completed.
Outside of CLS, I owe much to all of the people with whom I’ve worked over the years on property tax issues. These folks include Stefanie Fleischer Seldin, Esq., Kelly J. Gastley, Esq. and Roxane Crowley, Esq., at Philadelphia VIP; Elizabeth P. Shay, Esq. and Susanna Ratner, Esq. at the Senior- LAW Center; Joyce Smith, Irwin Trauss, Esq. and Margaret Robinson, Esq. at Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA); Tony Abata, housing counselor extraordinaire at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP); and the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). It may surprise some that I also am thankful to James Zwolak, Esq. and his staff in the Real Estate Tax Unit of the City Law Dept., as well as to the City’s co-counsel at GRB Law and at Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, for all the (mostly amicable) discussions over the years. I am also grateful to Frances Beckley, Esq. and the staff of the Philadelphia Dept. of Revenue who worked closely with Philadelphia legal service agencies for two years to draft local legislation creating unique “owner-occupied payment plans” for low-income homeowners—giving them a fair chance to preserve their homes while also paying the taxes the City needs. Similarly, this work would have never been enacted without the unanimous support of Philadelphia’s City Council and in particular City Council staff members Sophie Bryan, Esq., Jennifer Kates, Esq., and Todd Baylson.
There have also been several legal interns at CLS over the years who have contributed to my knowledge of property tax law. I thank you all. In particular, however, I owe thanks to Catherine M. Martin, Esq., who spent her summer internship at CLS researching the Municipal Claims Act and who drafted a memo titled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About MCTLA But Were Afraid To Ask.” The title says it all. She, Jonathan Sgro, Esq., and many others laid the groundwork for much of what I know about MCTLA and RETSL. I am also grateful to my co-author, Darrell Zaslow, Esq., who invited me to contribute to this Treatise, for better or worse. If I’ve helped improve the Treatise, the credit goes to him. Any errors or omissions, including those people whom I’ve neglected to thank, are my own. Finally, I am beyond grateful to four people: Professor Michael E. Libonati, Esq., my mentor at Temple University School of Law, who introduced me to state and local government law as well as to fine cigars; and to Ellis, Joanna and Andrea, who made all this possible.
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
Table of Cases
Table of Principal Statutes
INTRODUCTION AND SCOPE
REAL ESTATE TAXATION AND TAX SALES
|2.||REAL ESTATE TAXATION|
|3.||THE TAX CLAIM PRELIMINARY REQUIREMENTS FOR A REAL ESTATE TAX SALE UNDER THE REAL ESTATE TAX SALE LAW OF 1947|
|4.||THE TAX SALE UNDER THE REAL ESTATE TAX SALE LAW OF 1947|
|5.||REAL ESTATE TAX SALES UNDER OTHER STATUTES|
|6.||MUNICIPAL CLAIMS IN GENERAL|
|7.||PERFECTION OF A LIEN ON A MUNICIPAL CLAIM|
|8.||ENFORCEMENT OF LIEN FOR MUNICIPAL CLAIMS|
|9.||PERSONAL LIABILITY FOR MUNICIPAL CLAIMS AND REAL ESTATE TAXES|