As we previously covered in our Pennsylvania Building Codes and U&O issues article, an important part of any home purchase is the property inspection. We also did a series called Buyer Beware (Caveat Emptor) that explains what to look for when buying a home for sale in PA. Things just changed for the new year and the new Pennsylvania Act 133 Municipal Code & Ordinance Compliance Act just went into effect. Here’s what it means for you when you buy or sell your home in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (PA MCOCA) sets forth procedures which must be followed by municipalities that require property maintenance and other code inspections upon the sale of a Pennsylvania home or residence. MCOCA was recently amended through Act 133 of 2016 to address situations in which municipalities were not following the Act, leading to some real estate transactions being postponed or cancelled due to minor property maintenance violations. The amendments in Act 133 clarify the rights and responsibilities of both municipalities and property owners so these issues don’t occur in the future. As of the new year, the act is now officially live – effective January 2, 2018. This doesn’t just impact PA home buyers, but also home sellers too.
Pennsylvania Act 133
Municipal Code & Ordinance Compliance Act
Municipalities are not required by Pennsylvania Act 133 Building Inspection & Municipal Code Ordinance – Pennsylvania Act 133 to inspect existing homes that are being sold. However, municipalities that do require such inspections must issue a Use and Occupancy Certificate, prior to the date of purchase, in the following manner:
1) USE AND OCCUPANCY PERMIT:
The U&O will be given if there are no property maintenance or other code violations are found. An official Use and Occupancy Certificate must be issued by the municipality, borough or township allowing the property to be used or occupied as intended.
2) TEMPORARY USE AND OCCUPANCY PERMIT: If the municipal inspection reveals at least one violation, but no substantial violations (see definition below), the municipality shall issue a Temporary Use and Occupancy Certificate. The purpose of a temporary use and occupancy permit is to authorize the purchaser to fully utilize or reside in the property while correcting code violations.
3) TEMPORARY ACCESS CERTIFICATE: If the municipal inspection reveals a substantial code violation which renders a building “unfit for habitation,” a Temporary Access Certificate must be issued. The purpose of the certificate is to authorize the purchaser to access the property for the purpose of correcting substantial violations. No person may occupy a property during the term of a Temporary Access Certificate, but the owner shall be permitted to store equipment that is related to the proposed use or occupancy of the property or is needed to repair the substantial violations during the time of the Temporary Access Certificate. While this is the most extreme case, it is also important to move it from this status back to the complete U&O.
Pennsylvania Act 133 Building Inspection & Municipal Code Ordinance Definitions
SUBSTANTIAL VIOLATION: A Substantial Violation is a condition which makes a building “unfit for habitation.” Unfit for habitation is defined as: “A condition which renders a building, structure, or any part thereof, dangerous or injurious to the health, safety or physical welfare of an occupant or the occupants of neighboring dwellings. The condition may include substantial violations of a property that show evidence of: a significant increase to the hazards of fire or accident; inadequate sanitary facilities; vermin infestation; or a condition of disrepair, dilapidation or structural defects such that the cost of rehabilitation and repair would exceed one-half of the agreed-upon purchase price of the property.”
ESCROWS AND BONDS PROHIBITED: A municipality may not require the escrowing of funds or posting of a bond, or impose any similar financial security as a condition of issuing a certificate. But before accessing the property, a property owner is still generally required to follow all the applicable rules for permits, fees, escrows, etc., under existing building, property maintenance and fire codes or other health or safety codes.
COMPLIANCE PERIOD: A new owner will have 12 months from the date of purchase to either bring the property into compliance with codes or demolish the building. At the request of the property owner the municipality may negotiate a longer time period, but may not shorten it.
REINSPECTION OF PROPERTY: (1) At the expiration of the 12 month time period or before that time, if requested by the property owner, the municipality shall reinspect the property to determine compliance with the cited violations. (2) If a temporary access permit has been issued and reinspection indicates that the noted substantial violations have been corrected but other cited violations have not yet been corrected, the municipality shall issue a temporary use and occupancy permit to be valid for the time remaining on the original temporary access permit. (3) If the reinspection indicates that all noted violations have been corrected, the municipality shall issue a Use and Occupancy Certificate for the property.
FAILURE TO COMPLY BY OWNER: If the property owner fails to correct the code violations cited by the municipality, the following actions may occur: 1) Revocation of the temporary certificate; 2) The purchaser will be subject to any existing municipal ordinances or codes relating to the occupation of a property without a Use and Occupancy Certificate; 3) The purchaser will be personally liable for the costs of maintenance, repairs or demolition sufficient to correct the cited violations, and a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000.
PRE-EXISTING VIOLATIONS: This Act generally applies to violations that are found as a part of the municipal inspections done for property resale. But these rules do not apply to violations of a local code or ordinance that are already the subject of a fine or some other judicial action against the current owner, or to properties that are subject to certain other statutory provisions. In those instances, the violations must be addressed under the other applicable rules, whatever they may be.
Click here to read the full Pennsylvania Act 133 Building Inspection & Municipal Code Ordinance – Act 133.