Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

I recently wrote about a trend in Pennsylvania case law that has permitted short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and others, in otherwise residential neighborhoods. In each of these cases, a homeowner rented out their single-family residential dwelling to vacationers, the municipality claimed the short-term rental was a violation of the Zoning ordinance, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said that the short-term rentals were still residential uses, not hotels or tourist homes.  All of these cases said that if the municipality wanted to prohibit short-term vacation rentals, they needed to specifically and unquestionably prohibit that use.  Continue Reading How Can Associations Deal With Renters – Either Short Or Long Term?

I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 general membership meeting for the BIA of Lancaster County at the Inn at Leola Village.  The featured speaker for the event was Dr. Robert Dietz, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.  Dr. Dietz gave a detailed status report about the state of the building industry today, and some projections for the near future.  Most of Dr. Dietz’s discussion centered on one main theme:  there are not enough single family homes to meet today’s demand.  He spent time discussing why this is happening and the effects it could have over the next few years.  Continue Reading Notes from the 2017 Annual Building Industry Association County Meeting

Short-term vacation home rentals – such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and others – are becoming more and more common today.  They are present not only in traditional vacation spots such as the Poconos, but more and more in every kind of neighborhood.  Many of these short-term rentals are happening in relatively “normal” suburban or urban communities.  Very often, these neighborhoods are not equipped to deal with vacationing out-of-towners using, and all too frequently abusing, one of their neighbor’s homes every week.  So the question remains “are these short-term rentals violations?”  Continue Reading Are Short-Term Rentals Permitted In Your Neighborhood?

In many cases, an association will seek a Court Order to enforce its rules and regulations.  In those cases, the association asks a Judge to order the unit owner to stop doing something that they are not allowed to do, or to make some sort of change to comply with association governing documents or rules and regulations.  Since the association is asking the Judge to require a specific behavior, it needs to be sure that it asks for exactly what it wants.  Continue Reading Associations Should Be Careful What They Ask For

The Honorable Lawrence Stengel has been named as the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Lots of other people are more qualified than I to comment on Judge Stengel’s work, his judgment and his interaction with thousands of people that have appeared before him. But I have one story about Judge Stengel that demonstrates his quality on the bench.

Now attorneys don’t always tell the best stories.  There is often a lot of detail that we cannot put into our stories because of confidentiality.  Unfortunately, this is one of those times so some details are omitted to “protect the innocent” as they say.

I was a new lawyer, maybe one or two years out of law school.  I inherited a zoning enforcement case from one of the senior partners.  It was one of those cases that literally went on for decades.  The land owner would violate zoning and the municipality would get an order to enforce its zoning ordinance.  The owner would refuse, and one of the Judges in the Court of Common Pleas would issue an order to the land owner.  The land owner would still refuse to comply, and the Court would issue a citation for contempt of court.  The citation for contempt would keep the land owner on the straight and narrow for a little while.  But after a few years, the whole process would repeat itself. Continue Reading A Day in Judge Stengel’s Courtroom

I recently discussed an important victory for farmers in the case of Branton v. Nicholas Meat, LLC. The Branton case also had another interesting discussion that should help all agricultural operations, even those that do not generate or use food processing waste (“FPW”).

One of the requirements to be protected under the Right to Farm Act is that an operation must be “lawfully” in operation for more than one year. During the operation of the farms that spread FPW, the DEP issued a couple of notices of violation (“NOV”) to the farmers. The NOVs complained of spreading FPW without an approved Nutrient Management Plan, spreading FPW during winter months and spreading within 150 feet of a stream.  Continue Reading A Legal Victory for Farmers (Part 2)

Lancaster CountyPennsylvania Courts just announced an important victory for farmers in the case of Branton v. Nicholas Meat, LLC. This case helps farmers that generate and use food processing waste (“FPW”).  It also helps any agricultural use that is subject to any sort of state or federal permit.  In the case, the farmers operated a slaughterhouse which generates FPW.  The farmers applied the FPW to nearby farms.  They also constructed a new 2,400,000 gallon storage tank to hold the FPW. A number of neighboring property owners filed a lawsuit, saying that the spreading of FPW is a nuisance.  The farmers claimed that their operation was protected by the Right to Farm Act.

The Right to Farm Act provides that a neighbor cannot bring a nuisance action against a “normal agricultural operation.”  Most of the cases under the Right to Farm Act focus on whether a certain practice is a “normal agricultural operation.”  In a previous case, Gilbert v. Synagro, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the Court, and not a jury, was able to decide whether a practice was a normal agricultural operation.  The Court in Gilbert determined that the application of bio-solids was a normal agricultural operation.  In Branton, the Court found that the application of FPW is a normal agricultural operation. This means that the spreading of FPW is protected by the Right to Farm Act for all agricultural operations across the state.

The way that the Superior Court arrived at this decision is just as important as the holding itself.  First of all, the Court noted that the DEP regulates the spreading and storage of FPW as an agricultural operation. The Court said “we conclude that DEP’s experience and expertise in dealing with the regulation of FPW use and enforcement of the Right to Farm Act also supports a finding that the spreading of FPW is an accepted, well-regulated farming practice.”  This is very helpful because DEP regulations include a number of substances that are not traditionally seen as “fertilizer” by non-farmers.  In this decision, the Superior Court is saying that Courts and other tribunals should defer to the DEP’s judgment on these matters. Continue Reading A Legal Victory for Farmers (Part 1)

Lancaster OnlineLancaster County recently discussed the property tax rates for the 2018-19 tax year for all Lancaster County school districts. Since your school tax is usually much larger than the municipal and county tax, the increase in the school tax rate is going to account for the majority of the increase in your property taxes. With this information, you can start to determine how your property tax reassessment will affect you.

If you live in the Hempfield School District, for example, the 2018-19 school tax millage will be 20.33.  Even if the municipal and county taxes remain the same, a change in the assessed value of your property will mean an increase in your property taxes.  For example, if the value of your property in the Hempfield School District was increased by $100,000.00, your taxes will increase at least $2,033.00 per year.  Because most school districts increase their tax rates every year (unless you live in the Manheim Central School District, anyway), the effect that your reassessment will have on taxes will get greater every year.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

By now you should have received your final assessment for your home’s value.  After opening the dreaded notice, it likely goes one of two ways – hopefully, the assessment is accurate and it’s no big deal, but if your jaw hit the floor, don’t fret, we are here to help!

Over the past few months we have posted a series of blog articles explaining the reassessments and outlining the process of an appeal.  Now that the time has come, here’s what you need to know in a nutshell.

  1. Final notices were either mailed out June 9 or June 14, which means that you only have until either July 19 or July 24 to get your appeal in. You can find the appeal deadline listed on the assessment.
  1. If you appeal the assessment value within forty days, the appeal application fee is waived. How often can you do stuff like this for free?
  1. You, as the filing party, are responsible for providing proof that your home’s market value is not what they think it is.

If you fail to provide the documentation you need to substantiate your appeal, your appeal will undoubtedly be denied.  No harm, no foul, right?  I mean you didn’t have to pay the $40 appeal fee. Well, chances are that if you had just put some time and effort into researching what you need and gathering enough evidence, you would be enjoying a lower value and tax bill.  Continue Reading Lancaster County Assessment Notices are Out…Now What?

We have written a series of blog articles dealing with property tax assessments.  Since the final reassessment notices have gone out in the past few weeks, I have talked with a number of people about appealing their assessments.  Two questions come up in every conversation. They are:

  1. Do I need to get an appraisal of my property?
  2. How much will this cost?

For a commercial or industrial property, you nearly always need an appraisal in order to reduce your assessment.  I have spoken with a number of commercial real estate appraisers, and even former members of assessment appeal boards. They (and I) believe that the Assessment Appeal Board will not even consider reducing the assessment of a commercial or industrial property without an appraisal report from a qualified commercial real estate appraiser. Continue Reading How Much Will a Property Tax Assessment Appeal Cost for Commercial Properties?