A recent Commonwealth Court decision affirmed that municipalities within Pennsylvania are not immune from claims of adverse possession.  In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, 181 A3d. 1289 (Pa. Commw. 2018), the Commonwealth Court held that the City of Philadelphia had lost title to a property that it had previously condemned to an adjacent property owner who adversely possessed the property.

The City had acquired the property in 1974 by condemnation for the purpose of allowing PennDOT a temporary right-of-way across the property during the construction of an adjacent roadway.

Continue Reading Municipalities Can Lose Property Through Adverse Possession

Zoning is, at its core, the municipal regulation of the use of land.  Today, a municipality regulates the use of land by implementing a zoning ordinance.  However, as far back as the 18th century, land use regulations were enacted in Pennsylvania.  Early land use regulations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere were generally concerned with preventing the spread of fires.  For example, an act was adopted in the 1700s that prohibited baking and barrel making except in shops or places built of masonry.  After the Revolutionary War, a law was adopted that prohibited storing more than 30 pounds of gunpowder within two miles of Philadelphia.  The concept of setbacks (i.e., the required distance between a structure and a property line) was implemented to provide for adequate distances between buildings to prevent the spread of fires.

Lower Merion Township was the first municipality in Pennsylvania to adopt a zoning ordinance. Continue Reading A Brief History of Zoning in Pennsylvania

This is the second post in a two-post series on the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), with which developers and water companies see the return of a tax policy with negative consequences for development.  Effective this year, advances for construction (“Advances”) and Contributions in Aid of Construction (“CIAC”) for water systems are treated as taxable income.  Essentially, water companies must include in taxable income the contributed property or cash needed to connect a development to a water system.  This tax adds significant costs to developers when water companies pass the tax to developers.  At the same time, more work is created for water companies which must gross up Advances and CIAC (together, “A/CIAC”) and later recalculate those costs based on the actual cost of construction and gross up refunds.  This post provides insight on ways to mitigate the negative effects of the TCJA on development in Pennsylvania. Continue Reading UPDATE! Developers Beware! Water lines may cost more thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act – Part 2

With four million Airbnb listings worldwide, this rapidly growing short-term rental (STR) site and others like it have property owners, neighborhood groups, local government, and the real estate industry running in circles – and looking for a vacation spot. In the case of STRs, hosts are enjoying extra income and municipalities are keeping properties on the tax roll, while some nearby property owners are seeing a spike in their local rental rates or disruption to neighborhoods. In this post, the second in a two-post series (See “Regulating Short-Term Rentals,” by Jamie Strong), we discuss a case out of Lackawanna County decided this past December. The case of interest in this post was decided approximately six months after a case out of Monroe County – now on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – was decided by the Commonwealth Court. Continue Reading Short-Term Rentals: When an AirBnB is not really a B&B

The short-term rental (STR) market for using peer to peer rental services such as Airbnb and VRBO has grown significantly in recent years. These services allow property owners to realize the economic benefit of renting all or part of their properties as an STR.   However, there are corresponding concerns raised by neighboring property owners who feel STRs could result in the loss of a sense of community given the transient nature of such a use. The biggest challenge for a municipality that wants to regulate STRs has been attempting to regulate the use under an existing zoning ordinance that does not specifically address the use.

Recent Commonwealth Court cases, most originating in Monroe County, highlight the difficulty that municipalities have in attempting to regulate STRs under zoning ordinances that do not specifically address the use. Continue Reading Regulating Short-Term Rentals