This blog features case law related to real estate, land use, zoning, and municipal law in Pennsylvania

Tag: J. Brobson

Municipalities Not Immune from Adverse Possession Claims

In a property dispute between the City of Philadelphia and Francis Galdo, the Commonwealth Court ruled that the City of Philadelphia is not immune from claims of adverse possession where it is simply holding property for possible future sale.  This dispute centers upon a small, rectangular piece of undeveloped land that was condemned by the City in 1974 on behalf of the Commonwealth in relation to the construction of Interstate 95. Galdo purchased a property across the street from the property in 1989 and began using it for storage, parties, and parking.  Galdo made a variety of improvements to the property over the years: pouring concrete slabs, installing and (later) removing a fence, installing storage trailers, building a fire pit/brick barbeque and pavilion, and creating a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, and a treehouse.  In 2014 the City filed an ejectment action against Galdo, who responded with a counterclaim to quiet title, claiming ownership by adverse possession.  The trial court ruled in favor of the City, concluding Galdo could not claim title to the Property because the City had condemned the property at the behest of the Commonwealth, and because claims of adverse possession cannot lie against the Commonwealth or its agents, and the Property was devoted to public use.

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Trial Court Must Perform De Novo Review of Application for Site-Specific Relief Following Successful Validity Challenge

In this case out of Chester County, the Commonwealth Court was presented with a request for site specific relief following a successful validity challenge of the East Pike Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”).  In concluding that the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County had erred by denying site-specific relief, the Court found the 1 year limitation in § 916.1(g) was inapplicable, it was improper for the trial court to merely rely upon the conclusions of the East Pike Township Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”), and the burden of proving compliance with the Ordinance’s unchallenged, pre-existing, and generally applicable provisions rested upon the Township rather than the successful challenger.

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City’s Rental Unit License Fee Upheld, Indirect Costs Appropriate Consideration in Evaluating Reasonableness of Fee

In this appeal out of Lehigh County, the Commonwealth Court was presented with a challenge to the City of Allentown’s residential rental unit licensing ordinance.  Objecting landlords (“Challengers”) asserted the fee constituted an unlawful special tax and sought an injunction against its enforcement.  In affirming the trial court’s finding in favor of the City, the Commonwealth Court held that certain indirect costs were to be considered when evaluating the reasonableness of a municipal fee, and Challengers’ failure to include any indirect costs meant they had not met their burden and the case was properly dismissed.

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Term Of Renewal Period Not Included When Assessing Realty Transfer Tax To Ground Leases

In this appeal from a determination of the Pennsylvania Board of Finance and Revenue (the “Board”), the Commonwealth Court was asked to interpret the Tax Code and decide whether lease renewal periods are to be considered when determining whether a ground lease is subject to the realty transfer tax. In concluding that renewal periods are not to be included, the Court reversed the determination of the Board and ordered a refund of the taxpayers’ money.

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