The Commonwealth Court recently determined that when applying mandatory connection ordinances, adjoining or adjacent property owners are subject to the ordinance regardless of how far their “principal building” is from the sewer line. It further held that difficulty in connecting to a sewer line is not grounds for exempting property owners from the ordinance.

The Karaiszs owned two adjoining tracts of land upon which was an apartment building and a smaller residential building. The apartment building straddled the lot line between the two properties. Beneath a private alley abutting the rear of both properties, the Maxatawny Township Municipal Authority (the Authority) installed a new sewer system and a single connection point for both properties. The Authority gave notice to all property owners along the new line that they had to connect to it pursuant to the Township’s Mandatory Connection Ordinance (the Ordinance). Under the Ordinance, which mirrored language in the Second Class Township Code (the Code), properties “adjoining or adjacent to or whose principal building is within 150 feet” from the new system were required to connect to it. When the Karaiszs failed to connect, the Township instituted a sewer connection action against them. In their defense, the Karaiszs argued the “principal” structure—the apartment building—on both properties was more than 150 feet from the connection point, and that a subsurface rock formation made connecting burdensome and infeasible. The Berks County Court of Common Pleas (the trial court) found that the properties had two principal buildings on them and that one of those buildings was within 150 feet of the connection point, thereby making them subject to the ordinance.  It further rejected the Karaiszs’ infeasibility argument, reasoning that 186 other property owners had connected without experiencing issues with rock.

On appeal the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s determinations, but on different grounds. It found the language in the Ordinance and Code contemplated two different scenarios in which connection was required: (1) where a sewer line is adjoining/adjacent to a property, and (2) where the principal building on a non-adjoining/adjacent property is within 150 feet of the sewer line. Because the Karaiszs’ property was adjacent to the sewer line, regardless of the distance to the principal building, they were required to connect under the Ordinance.  Further, the court found the Code made no provision for hardship and that difficulty in connecting was not grounds for removing a property from the scope of a connection ordinance.

Click here to read: Maxatawny Twp. v. Karaisz, 68 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Sep. 25, 2015) (UNREPORTED).