When I look back on the early days of what I have been calling the “COVID times,” one of my key memories is the day student loan payments were paused. On one hand, I was relieved to not have to make payments on my student loans. On the other hand, I was also worried about how serious the whole Coronavirus thing was if it was enough to get the government to say they don’t want my money! By the time the first forbearance extensions was granted in August 2020, it was clear that COVID-19 was serious business and was going to be around for a while.

If you, like me, have student loans, you may have been paying close attention during the past 3 years to the news about possible student loan forgiveness and the countdown to when student loan payments restart. Or, like a lot of people I know, you may have spent the past 3+ years pretending that your student loans don’t exist and wishing they would just disappear before the payments restart.

Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to student loans won’t work for much longer as payments on federal student loans will be due starting in October. (Interest will begin to accrue on September 1, 2023.)

Fortunately, the new SAVE Repayment Plan may allow you to make lower monthly loan payments. The SAVE Plan is an income-driven repayment plan that calculates monthly payments based on income and family size. Aside from lower monthly payments, one of the key features of the SAVE Plan is that It if the borrower makes their monthly payment, their loan balance won’t grow due to unpaid interest.

The SAVE Plan may not be the best plan for everyone, so it is important to review the small print and talk to a loan counselor or financial advisor.

Regardless of what type of repayment plan you are on or may be considering, one of the best ways to start preparing for payments to restart is to check out the Loan Simulator offered by StudentAid.gov.

Many business owners find that once they start one business, it opens the door to many other business opportunities within that market. For example, a successful residential construction company might find that it would be profitable to open their own real estate agency. They already know the real estate construction business inside and out, so why not get in the market of buying and selling real estate as well?

This brings up the question of whether the business owner should form a new limited liability company (LLC) for each new endeavor. For the reasons explained below, the answer is generally yes, a business owner should maintain a separate LLC for each distinct business.  While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides a picture of some of the issues that may arise in this type of situation.

Protections Provided by LLC

It is helpful to review why LLCs are beneficial in the first place. Under Pennsylvania Law, the members of an LLC (owners of an LLC are called “members”) have limited personal liability protection for the debts and obligations of the LLC and any negligent acts of the other members. A member’s liability is limited to the amount of his or her own investment in the LLC and their own personal assets are protected beyond that amount.

One Business is Protected from the Other

If the business owner keeps each business venture separate and does not comingle business assets, the business owner and their other businesses will benefit from the same LLC protections. If each business has its own LLC, enters into its own contracts, and keeps its own financial records and bank accounts, the other businesses will not be responsible for the debts or judgments of any other company. This is particularly valuable when an owner wants to dive into an area that they are less familiar with. The more successful business will not be at risk if the start up fails.

Insurance Considerations

A business providing services outside its insurance coverage may risk having a claim denied. Insurance coverage is unique to each business. Insurance coverage is intended to protect against the risks that are present for that particular line of work. If a business begins providing services that are outside that line of work, there is a chance their insurance coverage will not apply to accidents or claims for the new business services. Forming a new LLC and getting insurance for that line of work will reduce the chance that a claim will be denied.

Complying with State and/or Federal Law

In Pennsylvania, certain professional services require special state or specialty board approval before it may open for business. Professional services such as engineers, lawyers, accountants, realtors, and medical providers are required to give the State notice that they intend to offer their services to the public. Registering a separate LLC for each business lowers the risk that the State will step in at a later date and require additional approvals or question the business’s activities.

Is it too Late if I Already Started Providing New Services?

Don’t worry if you already started a new business without registering a separate LLC – it’s not too late! Our firm can help you form a new LLC and ensure all the appropriate assets are transferred to the new company. In order to determine the best plan based on your circumstances, contact us early in the process to properly evaluate your options.

I have written many times about service dogs and emotional support animals.  Associations and Landlords are flooded with requests for service or support animals, reasonable accommodations, ESAs, PSAs, ADA and the FHA. It seems like any time someone has a question about a pet, a Landlord or Association needs to consult an attorney. So, I decided to “apply” for an emotional support animal online. I wanted to better understand the process and what happened at the end of my application.

First, a quick reminder of the law. Under the Fair Housing Act, a “housing provider” (which includes Landlords and Condominium and Planned Community or Homeowners Associations) must provide “reasonable accommodations” to permit someone with a disability to enjoy housing on an equal footing with people who do not have a disability. Sometimes, a person requires a “support animal” to assist with their disability. A “support animal” is just any animal. It does not need to be trained to do anything, be registered or wear a vest. If a resident has a letter from a physical or mental health professional that says the person has a disability and would benefit from a support animal, Landlords and Associations are required to permit those animals.

I know that it is easy for anyone to get a letter prescribing an emotional support animal. But I wanted to, once and for all, understand just how easy it was. So, I Googled “Emotional Support Animal.”  Tens of millions of hits came up. I clicked on the first sponsored ad. I took their quiz. The quiz was about a dozen questions. Here is the first one, directly from the website:

The next one:

Then there were a bunch just like this:

I answered them truthfully. I said that I sometimes feel sad, or worried, that I have occasionally lost sleep or have been irritated. I said that being with my dog, a 40-pound English Bulldog named “Butkus” makes me feel happy and less stressed. This is a lie because I do not have a dog. In my defense, if I DID HAVE an English Bulldog named Butkus, that would be really cool.

When I completed a dozen or so questions just like these, the Website asked me about my pets. This site limited the choices to dogs and/or cats. This is where I made up my bulldog. (Butkus was the name of the dog that Adrian got Rocky. I thought it was an English Bulldog, but it was actually an English Mastiff.)  Then I hit “Complete” and guess what? I was qualified to have an Emotional Support Animal.  For just $99, I could get the doctor’s letter that told the world about my disability and how Butkus helped. For another $89, I could have gotten a couple more items, including a “Service Animal” vest for Butkus. I decided not to spend the money. Because it is hard to get an imaginary bulldog to wear a red vest.

Here is part of my letter:

This is very similar to letters that my clients show me from residents. Sometimes the problem is anxiety or depression, but the gist of the letter is just about the same as mine.

Whenever a Landlord or an Association gets a letter like this, they have to permit the emotional support animal. You cannot ask additional questions about the disability, or decide on your own whether the resident really needs a support animal. The ESA is not subject to limits on pets. We like to tell clients that an ESA is not a pet, it is a prescription. The ESA is not subject to weight or breed limitations. You cannot charge a pet fee or deposit for an ESA.

This does not mean that the Landlord or Association cannot regulate the support animal’s behavior. Rules such as picking up after the animal, having them on a leash, not allowing them to be tied out unattended, and not allowing excessive noise are still enforceable against an Emotional Support Animal just like any other animal.

It is hard to write a blog like this without seeming judgmental. That is not my intent. Many people have legitimate emotional issues and having a dog or cat helps them through the day. Most of us want our neighbors to be happy, and if an animal helps, I am all for it. Also, philosophically, why should my neighbor care if I have lovable, slobbery bulldog? Now if I don’t pick up after him, or if he barks all night, then my neighbor has a reason to complain. But those are the kinds of rules that all animals have to follow, whether they are support animals or “just” pets.

The reason that I went through this exercise is to help Landlords and Associations understand how that doctor’s letter gets to them. When you get this letter, there is no way to tell if the resident is really suffering, or just had five minutes and $99 to spare. Landlords and Associations need to take letters like this at face value. My letter, and every other one like it, has all of the legal requirements of the Fair Housing Act to permit an Emotional Support Animal. This is the law, and there is no sense being angry about it, or trying to find ways around it.

This is the second part of our three-part blog series on Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Law.  In our first blog, we unraveled the intricacies of this law, and now, we delve deeper into its consequences. Join us as we explore the delicate balance between asset preservation and medical assistance, and uncover strategies to protect your future.

Conflicting Desires – Asset Preservation vs. Medical Assistance

In Estate Planning, it’s a common concern of clients to preserve enough estate assets through retirement to provide for an inheritance for the next generation.  It’s a valid concern.  One of the significant transfers of wealth in the United States is from a parent’s estate to a child.  Baby Boomers presently own almost half of the privately owned businesses in the United States; that’s approximately 6.5 Trillion Dollars of Revenue held by persons aged 55+.  Financial advisors call the transfer from Baby Boomers to Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, the “Great Wealth Transfer.”  The Great Wealth Transfer will shift between 30 and 60 trillion dollars of wealth between the generations.

However, people are living longer than ever before, and as a result of that longevity they need additional care.  For example, someone turning 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some long-term care, and women tend to need care longer.  In 2021 the Pennsylvania state-wide average cost for a private room on an annual basis was $133,882, with Lancaster County averaging $144,905.  This means that unless you were able to adequately plan while working (either with savings or long-term care insurance), your estate might be “spent down” to qualify for Medicaid (called Medical Assistance or “MA” in Pennsylvania).

What does Asset Preservation or MA have to do with filial support? 

Nursing facilities are filing filial support lawsuits, especially when a Medical Assistance applications are denied due to recent transfers of assets (MA has a sixty-month “look back period”).  It is essential that nursing facility bills are paid in full and that MA applications are not denied due to recent transfers of assets or inadequate verification of assets and transfers.   Nursing facilities can choose who to sue if the debt is unpaid.  That means if Child 1’s actions result in outstanding debt or a MA application denial, Child 2 could be sued.

In 2012 a Pennsylvania Court ruled that a son was liable under the filial support law for over $90,000.00 in nursing home costs incurred by his mother.  His mother was in a car accident, and she applied for MA.  While the application was pending, the mother left the facility and moved to Greece to live with her husband.  The court ruled that the facility could choose which family members to pursue the outstanding debt and that the son was on the hook for the balance plus interest of 6%.  The court also defined “indigent” as those who are entirely destitute and helpless and those who do not have sufficient means to provide for their own maintenance and support adequately.

In 2019 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania filial support statute also applies to a support claim by a healthcare provider for services provided in Pennsylvania for a disabled son against the parents who resided in New Jersey.  Therefore, under current law, a non-resident of Pennsylvania could be liable under the Pennsylvania filial support statute if the care provided to that person is provided in Pennsylvania.

Stay tuned for the third installment in this series, where we navigate legal pitfalls and provide essential safeguards.

Welcome to the first part of our three-part blog series on Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Law.  This installment will explore filial support and its implications for adult children.  Let’s dive in!

What is filial support? 

In Pennsylvania, filial support refers to a legal obligation placed on adult children to financially support their parents if they cannot meet their basic needs.  These laws are also sometimes known as filial responsibility and filial piety laws.  They exist in other states in the United States and other countries.  Filial support laws and their interpretation differ between states and countries and are often used by government and private entities.

Filial Support in Pennsylvania

Only about half the states in the United States have a filial support law, and Pennsylvania is one of them.  Some states with filial support laws include California, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Ohio.  These laws typically require an impoverished person’s family to pay for their food, clothing, housing, and medical expenses.  Filial support laws are not the same as the five-year lookback from Medicaid/Medical Assistance applications (three years in some states) but sometimes intersect in their application.   

Historical Background

The Pennsylvania law has been on the books since before the Revolutionary War, but only recently has it been used by nursing home facilities (see part 2 coming soon).  Pennsylvania revived the filial support law with Act 43 of 2005, which became part of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Law under Chapter 46.  Pennsylvania’s filial support law requires the indigent person’s spouse, child, or parent to financially care for, maintain, and assist the person regardless if that person is a public charge.  

Understanding Key Terms:

Unfortunately, the law did not define “indigent” or “public charge.”  Therefore, we must look at court cases and other statutes to see how these terms have been interpreted.  Case law may help determine when someone could be considered indigent (see part 2).  And in most circumstances, the public charge typically means that a person is reliant on benefits provided by the government, such as public cash assistance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. 

Exceptions to the Requirement:

While the law stipulates that family members must contribute to an impoverished person’s care, there are two exceptions to this requirement:

  • Lack of Sufficient Financial Ability: If you do not possess the necessary financial means to support the indigent person adequately.
  • Abandonment of Minor Child: If the indigent person abandoned their minor child for a period of ten years.

Filial support laws in Pennsylvania and other states impose a legal obligation on adult children to financially assist their parents in times of need.  Understanding the nuances of these laws and their interpretation is crucial for both adult children and their parents.  Stay tuned for part 2 of our series, where we will explore the impact of asset preservation and Medical Assistance.

Recently, many Lancaster County residents received an email from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health emphasizing the significance of being prepared for a medical emergency and having the necessary documents, such as an advance directive.  In light of this reminder, we want to delve deeper into advanced care planning and highlight the importance of having updated estate planning documents, including the Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will.  We applaud Penn Medicine for drawing attention to this crucial aspect of healthcare and encourage readers to seek assistance from experienced estate planning attorneys who can guide them through the process and alleviate potential burdens for families.

The Importance of Advance Care Planning:

In medical emergencies or situations where an individual cannot make their own healthcare decisions, advance care planning helps clarify what that individual wants.  You can communicate your desires regarding medical treatments, life-sustaining interventions, and end-of-life care by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney or establishing a DNR, MOLST, or POLST with your physician. 

Estate Planning Documents in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania has two essential estate planning documents that guide medical decision-making: the Healthcare Power of Attorney and the Living Will.  Pennsylvania also permits a Combined Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will, which our attorneys recommend in most situations.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to appoint a trusted individual or individuals, known as your healthcare agent or proxy, who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot, such as when a patient develops Alzheimer’s or is unconscious and can’t communicate.  Choosing someone who understands your values, beliefs, and medical preferences is crucial and will abide by your wishes, even when pressured by others.

A Living Will, on the other hand, allows you to specify your preferences for end-of-life care, including decisions about life-sustaining treatments.  In addition, this document provides clear instructions to healthcare professionals and your loved ones about your desires in various medical scenarios, organ donation, and sometimes funeral and burial instructions.  By having a Living Will, you can relieve your family members from the burden of making difficult decisions during emotionally challenging times.

The Importance and Purpose of a Power of Attorney:

It is also essential to consider a broader spectrum of estate planning.  For example, a Financial Power of Attorney is another essential document that should be part of your estate plan.  It grants authority to an individual, known as an Agent, to manage your financial affairs, make legal decisions regarding your assets and debts, pay your bills, manage your investments, and handle other important matters if you are unable to do so, such as incapacity, unavailable, or military service.  By appointing an agent or attorney-in-fact, you can mitigate potential challenges for your family during difficult times.

Take Action and Seek Professional Guidance:

We commend Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health for highlighting the importance of proper planning and preparation for medical emergencies.  If you aren’t sure your loved ones are protected and your wishes are respected, we strongly encourage you to contact one of our experienced estate planning attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  They possess the expertise to guide you through creating and executing estate planning documents, such as the Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Financial Power of Attorney.  Don’t wait until it’s too late—take the proactive step of securing your future and easing the burden on your family.

Act 115 of 2022 will amend the Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act and the Uniform Planned Communities Act to change the ways meetings and elections are held. In Part One, I listed many ways that Act 115 will help communities. In this part, I will talk about some of the ways Act 115 may make things more difficult.

Elections in Big Associations

If a community has 500 Units or more, Act 115 will add a lot of “process” to elections. For these bigger communities, all votes need to be submitted to an “independent reviewer.” The independent reviewer needs to count and certify the election results.

An independent reviewer is defined as:

  • A person who is selected by the Executive Board and satisfies all of the following:

A “vote management system” is:

A third-party vendor who operates a digital or subscription service that securely manages the conduct of elections and voting procedures.

Remember, this cannot be the board or the property manager. Plus, the independent reviewer has to disclose what they are getting paid to do the job.

If an association has fewer than 500 Units, it can opt in to this process. This requires the approval of at least 51% of all unit owners.

This independent reviewer requirement also applies to master planned communities who have 500 or more units. This leads to a big legal question. In many, if not most, master planned communities, each of the sub-communities elect their own representatives to the composite master planned community board. That means that there is never a ballot that goes out to every member of every sub-community to elect the master board. I am not sure whether this provision requires every master planned community use an independent reviewer, or whether it only applies where the master board is elected at large.

Amendments to Bylaws

Up until now, there have been several different ways to amend Bylaws. Generally, the way to amend Bylaws was whatever the Bylaws said. Act 115 standardizes Bylaw amendments, requiring:

The bylaws may be amended only by vote, vote by proxy or agreement of unit owners of units to which at least: … fifty-one percent (51%) of votes in the Association are allocated ….

The vote may be taken only at a scheduled meeting and following notice to the unit owners that was advertised 14 days in advance to the unit owners. Absentee voting shall be permitted to unit owners provided that the ballots must be submitted to an independent reviewer by the commencement of the scheduled meeting.

Again, this concept of an independent reviewer comes into play.

Recording Member Meetings

Act 115 gives guidance on recording members’ meetings. It says:

Recorded Meeting. … meetings of the Association may be recorded by the Executive Board via audio or video technology, provided that an announcement is made by the presiding officer at the commencement of the meeting that the meeting will be recorded. A recorded meeting under this subsection shall be maintained and available to unit owners for a period of no less than six months after the date of the meeting.

This does not apply to board meetings.

Pre-Election Sessions

The biggest example of Act 115 giving an answer to a question that no one asked deals with pre-election sessions. This section forces the association to have a “meet the candidates” session if any of the candidates request it. The Act requires:

Pre-election sessions.–the Bylaws must require that, in the event that there are more candidates than open positions on the executive board, then, upon request of one or more of the candidates, the association shall hold a special session at least seven days before the election of an executive board member to allow the unit owners to meet each candidate for an executive board position. Each candidate for an executive board position shall have equal time to address the unit owners during a special session under this subsection.

It is hard enough to get people to show up for an election meeting. Imagine having them come out a week before to meet their neighbors?

Removal of Board Members in Condominiums

Act 115 gives the process for removing a board member in a condominium. It requires a two-thirds vote of all persons present at any meeting of the unit owners at which a quorum is present. Notice needs to be provided of the intention to remove a board member.

This requirement was already in Section 5303(f) of the Planned Communities Act. I think that this is a terribly low bar to do something as drastic as removing a board member. Remember, in Part One, if there is not enough for a quorum after two meetings, then whoever bothers to show up at the third meeting counts as a quorum. That means two-thirds of whoever is at the third meeting can remove a board member.  

Associations are Forced to Amend Their Bylaws

Other than forcing large associations to hire independent reviewers, the worst part of Act 115 is that it requires associations to amend their bylaws to incorporate some of these provisions. There are a number of places in Act 115 that say “the bylaws must provide,” of the “bylaws shall/must require” one of these provisions.  

I believe that this means just about all of the associations out there will need to amend their bylaws. This will not require a vote of members. The Acts allow for “corrective amendments” if they are necessary to comply with current law. Unfortunately, a corrective amendment also requires that the association get a completely independent attorney to provide an opinion that the bylaw amendment is permitted. This will be one more job and one more bill for communities. Many of the changes in Act 115 will help people become more involved in their community meetings and elections. Unfortunately, some associations will have a lot of work to do to comply with the law. And just about every association will have to do a little bit of extra work because of these changes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly prevalent in our daily lives, from chatbots like ChatGPT to virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. While AI has the potential to revolutionize industries and improve efficiency, it also comes with its own set of perils. In Pennsylvania, there are legal concerns surrounding the use of AI that should be taken into account by individuals and businesses alike.

One of the primary legal concerns with AI is privacy. AI systems are often designed to collect and analyze large amounts of data, which can include sensitive personal information. Under Pennsylvania law, individuals have a right to privacy that extends to their personal information. This means that businesses that use AI systems must ensure that they are collecting and using personal information in a way that is consistent with state and federal privacy laws…

STOP!! Stop reading. I didn’t write any of that. But it sounds like something I would write, doesn’t it? That’s because I asked ChatGPT to “write a legal blog using Pennsylvania law about the perils of AI like ChatGPT. The tone, syntax, and style should be similar to the blogs found here and here.” (Those links are to blogs that I have previously written).

While there are countless issues with AI, including privacy, as pointed out by ChatGPT, one of the biggest problems is that for most of us, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between content generated by AI and content generated by a human. Bad actors have already started to use AI to take advantage of this and to scheme victims into disclosing sensitive information.

For example, one emerging pattern is the use of voice-generated AI to convince unknowing people that a family member is in danger and needs money. In that situation, criminals are using AI software to call someone pretending to be a family member, using what sounds like the actual voice of the person they are purporting to be. When the caller states that they are in trouble and need money wired right away, the victims are falling into the trap and sending the money. By the time they realize their family member is okay and that it was a trick, the money is long gone.  

Other problems arise with AI due to its limitations. While it seemed like a simple solution to ask ChatGPT to write a blog to save me some time, the information that it provided was not completely accurate. While ChatGPT was able to recite some law, it was not able to fully comprehend and apply Pennsylvania-specific law to the set of facts that I entered. Hence, the problem. For a non-lawyer looking for legal advice, it is impossible to be sure that the advice generated by AI is accurate. This can lead to costly problems down the road for anyone who follows incorrect legal advice.

I must admit that playing around in ChatGPT is a lot of fun and I am getting a kick out of coming up with obscure requests, which, for the most part, have been satisfactorily met. Asking ChatGPT to generate a packing list for a week-long trip to the beach with 3 kids under 6 has definitely made my summer vacation planning easier!

My advice for anyone looking to explore what modern AI has to offer is to be cautious about the information you are receiving. And, as always, to always second guess anything that seems too good to be true, too convenient, or just doesn’t feel right.

* I didn’t write this title either. I asked ChatGPT to “write a title for a legal blog about AI using the words pitfalls peril and another word that starts with P that means fun”.

Congratulations! You married the love of your life…but what if you are not legally married according to the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court?  In other words, what if the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court does not have a record of you and your partner ever getting married? Or, what if the minister who was ordained via the Internet cannot legally officiate your wedding?

To be legally married in Pennsylvania, you and your partner must apply for a marriage license. In Lancaster County, that can be done either in person at the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court or through an online application.  Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days from the date of issuance. 

Solemnizing the Joyful Occasion

Getting a marriage license alone does not mean that you are married. You and your partner must also have your marriage solemnized by a person qualified to solemnize a marriage. But can you ask just anyone to solemnize your marriage?

The answer, like many things in the law, is “it depends.”  In Heyer v. Hollerbush, a minister was ordained via the Internet and officiated a couple’s wedding.  A York County judge ruled that the couple’s marriage was not valid because the minister did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship, therefore, could not officiate a wedding ceremony.

Approximately two years later, another case, In re O’Neill, conflicted with Heyer v. Hollerbush. In this case, a judge ruled that a minister who was ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in, may officiate wedding ceremonies.  Neither case has been appealed to a Pennsylvania Appellate Court, making it unclear as to whether a minister who has been ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in can officiate wedding ceremonies. Due to the conflicting rulings, a majority of the counties’ Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court offices throughout Pennsylvania have a warning displayed on their websites about Internet ordinations.

For this reason, you should be cautious about having a minister who was ordained via the Internet officiate your wedding ceremony.

Sign on the Dotted Line

After the marriage is solemnized, the marriage certificate and the duplicate must be signed by the person solemnizing the marriage and the duplicate must be returned for recording within 10 days to the court that issued the license.

I have helped clients who thought they were married to their partner for many years and applied for a certified copy of their marriage certificate, only to find out the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court had no record of their marriage. To their shock, they were not legally married! This can occur when the officiant does not return the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate to the court, resulting in the marriage not being recorded. 

For this reason, it is crucial that your officiant signs the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate and returns it to the court within ten days.

If you would like to make sure you are legally married in Lancaster County, you can search for your marriage record here. Keep in mind that just because you may have gotten married in Lancaster County, you may have obtained your marriage license from a different county in Pennsylvania.

If you find yourself in need of an attorney to help you and your partner record your marriage, your marriage wasn’t properly recorded or if you have questions about ministers who were ordained via the Internet , contact one of our family law attorneys.

New amendments to the Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act and Uniform Planned Communities Act (“UPCA”) will make huge changes in the way communities hold meetings and elections. These Amendments are found in House Bill 1795 (Act 115 of 2022). Some of these changes make it easier to hold meetings and vote electronically. Others will make it more difficult – and potentially more expensive – to hold elections. The new requirements take effect on May 3, 2023. Here is a summary of the changes.

The Problem with Electronic Notice and Virtual Meetings

During COVID, most Communities wanted to have virtual meetings and elections. And they wanted to be able to vote without an actual physical ballot or proxy. The problem is that most bylaws are very specific about holding election meetings in person, and having votes cast in person or by proxy. The same requirements apply to giving notice for meetings. Most people would prefer getting notice by email, but most bylaws call for written notice.

Even though the Pennsylvania Business Corporation Law allows alternate ways to meet, many people (including me) are uncertain whether the specific language in the bylaws needs to be followed. In many communities that staged virtual meetings and elections, the outcomes were challenged by people who insisted they had to be in person, or that notice needed to be written. For the last few years, lots of communities sent out electronic notices, and held meetings and elections over Zoom. But none of us have been completely comfortable doing these things.

Permission for Electronic Notice and Virtual Meetings

The best thing that Act 115 does is give formal permission for electronic notice and virtual annual meetings. Section 3308(a) of the Condominium Act (5308(a) of the UPCA) says:

The notice of a meeting may be delivered by electronic means if the unit owner has agreed in writing to accept the notice by electronic means or where the bylaws permit electronic notices.

This means that an association can keep a record of who wants to receive electronic notice, and who does not. Keep in mind that unit owners need to “opt in” to electronic notice.

Act 115 also formally permits virtual annual meetings. It says:

Use of remote technology.–Except as otherwise provided in the bylaws, an individual may participate in a meeting of the executive board or association by means of a conference telephone or other remote electronic technology, including the Internet, which allows participants in the meeting to hear each other. Participation in a meeting as authorized under this subsection shall be deemed in-person attendance at the meeting.

Permission for Electronic and Absentee Voting

Many associations have a problem with the difference between a “proxy” and an “absentee ballot.” Many unit owners would just like to fill out a ballot and drop it at the community building or email it to the property manager. Act 115 allows electronic and absentee ballots. It says:

Approved methods of voting.–The voting rights of a unit owner may be cast or given in the following ways: in person or by proxy at a meeting of the association or by absentee or electronic ballot. An absentee or electronic ballot may:

  1. be counted as a unit owner present and voting for the purpose of establishing a quorum, and otherwise, only for agenda items appearing on the ballot.
  2. not be counted even if properly delivered, if the unit owner attends the meeting to vote in person. A vote cast at a meeting by a unit owner supersedes a vote submitted by absentee or electronic ballot previously submitted.

The practical question is “How reliable is an electronic ballot?” The amendments say:

The term “electronic ballot” means a ballot cast or given by electronic transmission over the internet, vote management system or the Association’s community network, whether by direct connection, intranet, telecopier, electronic mail or other technological means, if the identity of the Unit Owner submitting the ballot can be confirmed and a receipt of the electronic transmission and ballot can be made available to the Unit Owner.

These last parts – confirming the identity of the unit owner and providing a receipt, might take some work. If a unit owner is emailing a ballot, it is easy enough to confirm their identity and provide a receipt. But if the meeting was held on Zoom, that might be much more difficult.

Finally, the Act also allows for election by “acclamation” if only one person is running. It says:

Acclamation.– In the event that an election for a position on the Executive Board is uncontested, the officer or chair presiding at the election meeting may declare the nominee elected by acclamation after determining there are no further nominations.

Help to Achieve a Quorum for Elections

Act 115 may also help associations who have difficulty getting a quorum for their meetings. The amendments provide that if an association fails to get a quorum at two “subsequent” (which is probably not the word they were looking for) meetings, it can establish a quorum according to §5756 of the Corporation Law. This section says that whoever shows up for a meeting that has been adjourned for lack of a quorum gets to be counted as a quorum.

This means that an association can try two times to get enough people out to vote. If they cannot establish a quorum, then they can hold a third meeting. At that third meeting, anyone who shows up counts as a quorum. Of course, holding three meetings seems like a lot of work (and it is). But with electronic notice, it can help associations that have not held elections for years actually have a legitimate election.

The changes that I have discussed in this article are all positive. They allow the association to be flexible in holding their meetings and gathering votes. Act 115 gives permission for associations to hold meetings the way that they want to, or gives them cover for the way they have been doing things since the start of COVID.

In Part Two of this article, I will go over some of the ways that Act 115 makes things harder, more costly, or potentially more controversial for associations.