|Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales & Municipal Claims|
AUTHORS: DARRELL M. ZASLOW, and MONTGOMERY L. WILSON, and LEVI S. ZASLOW
FORMERLY AUTHORED BY: CYRIL A. FOX, JR.
and W. EDWARD SELL
Published: December, 2017, 3rd Revised Edition
Most recent supplement/update: N/A
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2014942500
1 VOLUME, SOFT-COVER, PRICE: $199.00
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|
PREFACE by Levi S. Zaslow
The publication of the Third Edition of Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales and Municipal Claims is bittersweet. Since the publication of the last edition, the co-author of this book, Darrell M. Zaslow, Esq., tragically passed away. We mourn that loss every day. Beloved by so many, the loss is shared by family, friends, colleagues, and countless others who were fortunate enough to know him or benefit from his works.
Among his many talents, he was a tremendous scholar, advocate, and author. He wrote or compiled at least five books, including this Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales and Municipal Claims. This book, explicating the otherwise confusing and tangled web of constitutional provisions, statutes, regulations, case law, and practices, has benefited countless members of the bench and bar, law professors and students, researchers, and other professionals in navigating this field. The practice of law, the study of law, and local governance have improved as a direct result of this book. Without the work and diligence of Darrell M. Zaslow, this book would simply not exist in its current form.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently observed the great challenges in collecting real estate or municipal taxes. Given those challenges, among other forms of relief, taxing bodies may be granted a power that is “extraordinary” and “momentous”: the power to take the private property of one and sell it to another. With extraordinary power comes extraordinary responsibility. These powers are, therefore, constitutionally restrained and carefully and specifically regulated by the General Assembly. Thus, numerous safeguards are set in place. The government must strictly comply with constitutional, statutory, and procedural requirements, the court has a duty to conduct an independent inquiry to ascertain whether the government complied with its responsibilities, and the property owner must preserve his or her rights as provided in these safeguards. This book attempts to guide the reader through this intricate and tangled subject matter of Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sales and Municipal Claims.
This edition did not appear from nowhere. Indeed, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary since the original publication of this book in its first form in 1948. This edition builds upon the prodigious work of Lester S. Hecht, Esq., Professor Cyril A. Fox, Dean W. Edward Sell, Darrell M. Zaslow, Esq., Montgomery L. Wilson, Esq., and others. A debt of gratitude is owed to each of them for their contributions. It is an honor to join their company in publishing this book.
While it would be impossible to thank each person who made this book and my practice of law possible, I would like to express gratitude to: my incredible, caring, and understanding wife Shoshana; my wonderful children Zechariah, Tehilla, and Akiva; my honored parents Darrell and Sherri Zaslow and parents-in-law Abbe and Adena Mendlowitz; my grandparents and grandparents-in-law; the Honorable Althea M. Handy, Associate Judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City; my law partners at Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A.; and Tony DiGioia, Esq., Editor-in-Chief of the George T. Bisel Company, Inc. Each of them has provided guidance and support in their own way and gratitude is expressed to each of them.
Careful adherence to the law and the principles underlying it will ensure that the government, the courts, and property owners will achieve that delicate balance of power and responsibility. It is the hope that this book will help provide some illumination, guidance, and balance to those competing forces.
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.