An Overview of Real Estate Laws Introduced in Philadelphia Over the Past Year
Written by: Alan Nochumson
Over the past year, Philadelphia City Council has introduced and, in some cases, passed laws that will dramatically affect the way property owners, real estate developers and investors, and other real estate professionals conduct themselves within city limits.
In this article, we summarize the following relevant pieces of legislation:
- Ordinance amending Title 4 of the Philadelphia Code to add provisions relating to the abatement of rats and other vermin in the city of Philadelphia.
Bill No. 210902, introduced on Nov. 4, 2021, and enacted on Feb. 24, 2022, places extra requirements on property owners to abate rats and other pests prior to any new constructions with excavation.
Prior to demolition, full rehabilitation, or new construction with excavation, the property owner must prepare a rodent control management plan including provisions for abatement by a licensed structural pest control company as well as maintain a written record of any pest control measures performed on the site.
In addition, property owners of vacant lots must perform and certify annual inspections (and remediation, if necessary) by a duly licensed pest control company for the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) and the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health. These governmental authorities will enforce the rules and reporting structure.
In doing so, property owners will now be required to remain vigilant in controlling pests in both construction sites and vacant lots.
- Ordinance amending Title 4 of the Philadelphia Code to revise provisions relating to excavation work and historical structures.
Bill No. 210389, introduced on April 28, 2021, and taking effect on Jan. 1, 2023, adds responsibilities to the building permit and excavation permitting process to better protect right of ways and adjacent building structures.
Changes include adding monitoring plans prepared by duly licensed engineers and filing additional information about the developed properties including property lines, location and widths of adjacent streets walkways and easements, all existing building dimensions surrounding the developed property, any foundation or retaining wall within 10 feet of the proposed excavation, and location of utilities within close proximity of the developed property.
The new law further requires the city of Philadelphia’s Streets Department to approve any encroachments into the right of way and city of Philadelphia’s Water Revenue Bureau to approve stormwater management where the area of disturbance exceeds 5,000 square feet.
When excavating next to a historic structure, the preconstruction survey must include documentation of the existing building structures, identification of any visible cracks in the building structures, photographs showing the elevation and any deformations, and a statement by the entity performing the observations confirmed the condition in the survey.
Property owners must notify adjacent property owners of the excavation, modifications to an adjoining firewall, and describe the nature of the work, estimated duration, monitoring and protection plans, and contact information for the real estate development project.
This new law places additional obligations on property owners and increases their responsibility to adjacent property owners. These requirements protect adjacent property owners by enforcing a reporting and documentation scheme to avoid liability.
- Ordinance adding protections for commercial tenants by adding a new chapter to Title 9 of the Philadelphia Code.
Bill No. 210917-A, signed on Jan.18, 2022, and effective on March 18, 2022, mandates that tenants have an opportunity to determine the zoning and approved uses for a commercial property before entering a commercial lease.
The landlord must give the tenant written notice on how to determine the zoning and approved uses of the leased premises and an acknowledgement form signed by both parties, indicating that the tenant received the requisite written notice.
The new law provides tenant with a private right of action against any landlord which fails to comply with it.
- Ordinance requiring the disclosure of the names and addresses of some individuals behind real estate development projects by adding Section A-301 to the Philadelphia Code.
Bill No. 200417, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2022, creates more stringent requirements for property owners regarding the posting of permits, licenses and work site signage.
Specifically, applications for permits, issued permits, site signs and other governmental applications related to construction must list: the name and address of the property owner if the property owner is a natural person; the names and addresses of the property owner’s responsible officers if the property owner is not a natural person; or the names and addresses of any individual who owns more than 49% of the value of the property or that of the property owner, if the property owner is not a natural person or a publicly-traded company.
By way of passage of this new law, the public at large will now ultimately know the identity of many individuals behind a real estate development project.
- Ordinance amending Title 4 of Philadelphia Code “The Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code” in order to require property access agreements.
Bill No. 220008, introduced on Jan. 20, 2022, and effective on Jan. 1, 2023, increases the protections afforded to adjacent property owners during construction.
Specifically, property owners responsible for the construction activities must prepare and submit plans to protect those adjacent properties including details on (1) adjoining or adjacent buildings structures and any element that may be impacted by the construction; (2) documentation of the existing conditions of adjoining or adjacent building structures; (3) photographs of the existing conditions of adjoining or adjacent building structures; and (4) a signed statement by the representative of the entity performing structural observations confirming the conditions in preconstruction surveys.
The initial notice of construction given to adjacent or adjoining property owners must include the pre-construction survey and details describing work that may affect the adjoining or adjacent property and a copy of an insurance certificate. If the property owner cannot obtain a signature from the adjacent or adjoining property owner for the building permit, evidence of delivery is sufficient to receive the building permit, but that property owner must wait 60 days prior to commencing construction activities.
This new law will place the onus on property owners to notify their adjoining or adjacent property owners about the proposed construction activities. By doing so, however, in many cases, will delay construction activities during this 60-day cooling off period.
- Amending the Philadelphia Code to provide a credit against taxes or city fees to cover the cost of installing fire-escape rope ladders.
Bill No. 220004, which will take effect with respect to the 2022 tax year and thereafter, affords property owners the option to apply for a tax credit, or a credit against the monies they owe to the city government, equal to the cost of installing a fire-escape rope ladder.
The property owner must agree to maintain the ladder and will be obligated to reimburse the city government if the property owner fails to maintain the ladder appropriately.
The purpose of this new law is to ensure a safe means of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency to the occupants of multistory building structures.
Bills in Committee
- City of Philadelphia’s Streets Department may collect governmental fees for costs incurred in reviewing plans for and constructing ADA-compliant sidewalks.
Bill No. 220189, which is currently in committee, authorizes the city of Philadelphia’s Streets Department to charge a fee for reviewing ADA ramp plans or installing ADA-compliant curb ramps in lieu of installation by the property owners.
- Resolution creating the School District of Philadelphia Building Authority Work Group.
Pursuant to Resolution No. 211028, the University of Pennsylvania has donated $100 million to the Philadelphia to improve school facilities through environmental remediation.
The School District of Philadelphia plans to prioritize environmental concerns but also proceed forward to develop a plan for the development of schools for the 21st century, including new building structures.
Philadelphia City Council created a School District of Philadelphia Building Authority Work Group, comprised of experts and stakeholders, to consider, analyze, and make recommendations regarding new educational facilities, co-locations with other governmental agencies, and health centers.
- Introduced ordinances placing a six-month ban on all total demolition in the Eighth Councilmanic District.
On Feb. 3, 2022, District Councilmember Cindy Bass introduced Bill No. 220081, which would place a six-month prohibition on all “total demolition” in the Eighth Councilmanic District.
Total demolition is defined as “removal or partial removal of structural elements for the purpose of removing the entire structure.”
There are two exceptions to the proposed moratorium: if the demolition is necessary to abate an imminently dangerous condition as determined by L&I; or if a governmental permit allowing for such demolition is obtained in accordance with provision of Section 14-1005 of the Philadelphia Code which regulates historical districts and requires approval from both L&I and the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
The moratorium does not apply to any real estate development projects valued at $150,000 or less.
- Introduced ordinance adding requirement to the issuance of demolition permits for building structures currently or previously used as religious facilities.
On Feb. 10, 2022, Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jamie Gauthier and Allan Domb introduced Bill No. 220110, which amends the Philadelphia Code to include additional requirements for demolitions permits for building structures currently or previously used as religious facilities.
This proposed ordinance would require L&I to verify if a building structure is or was used as a religious facility. If the building structure is a religious facility and is at least 50 years in age, L&I must notify the applicable district councilmember and the applicable registered community organizations (RCOs) of the demolition permit application.
After that occurs, the applicable RCOs must hold a meeting with the community and confirm with L&I that they discussed demolition within 30 days of receiving notice of the demolition permit application. L&I will then consider the position of the RCOs in making the decision whether to issue the demolition permit. If passed, the ordinance will take effect immediately.
Alan Nochumson is the sole shareholder of Nochumson P.C., a legal services firm with a focus on real estate, land use & zoning, litigation, and business counseling for the people of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Nochumson is a frequent author and lecturer on issues commonly confronting businesses, individuals and professionals. You can reach him at 215-399-1346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Goldberg is an associate attorney at the firm. You can reach him at 215-399-1346 or email@example.com.
—Kelsey Keane, a third-year law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, who is interning at the firm, assisted in the writing of this article.
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