Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) recently introduced a bill in the PA House that would require the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to create a brief document to clearly outline the rights and responsibilities property owners have during any land acquisition negotiations where eminent domain is being used. House Bill 2609, titled Landowner Bill of Rights, is aimed at allowing property owners to better understand their rights during eminent domain negotiations. Some condemning agencies, such as state departments of transportation (including PennDOT), already have such documents.
I tried a case in York County, PA involving a condemnation of the former York County Prison by the City of York RDA. The RDA claimed it was worth about $65,000. We presented evidence that the property was worth $1,250,000.
After less than ½ hour, the Jury returned a verdict of $1,250,000 – the full amount we alleged.
Unfortunately, the RDA chose to appeal the verdict to the Commonwealth Court. The Court affirmed that verdict. The RDA filed a petition asking the PA Supreme Court to hear it’s appealed. The Court denied that petition.
So, the matter is now formally over and our judgment is final.
A group of Cook County property owners have filed suit in Illinois federal court alleging that they are owed more than $27 million in property tax refunds due to discriminatory assessments by the County’s Treasurer and Assessor. These property owners claim they paid taxes at significantly higher levels than other taxpayers in the same class. The complaint alleges from 2000 through 2008, assessed valuations of single-family residential, commercial and industrial properties were not made by the assessor at percentages of market value required under the state Property Tax Code and the Illinois Constitution. As a result, the complaint says, the group collectively overpaid property taxes by more than $27.8 million on six properties.
The property owners also accuse the county assessor of destroying approximately 90 percent of electronic records of his assessments of single-family residential properties and records of his internal appeals process for all classes of property for tax years 2000 to 2006 and part of 2007. The owners allege the destruction of those records violated the law on preservation of public records.
The case is A.F. Moore & Associates Inc. et al. v. Pappas et al., case number 1:18-cv-04888, in the United States District Court for the Northern District Of Illinois.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed HB 863, which allows the PA’s real estate brokers, associate brokers and salespeople to provide broker price opinions. The law defines a BPO as “an estimate … that details the probable selling price of a particular parcel of real property and provides a varying level of detail about the property’s condition, market and neighborhood, and information on comparable sales.”
Brokers, associate brokers and salespeople must complete at least three hours of continuing education on BPO topics during the current or preceding two-year license period. Additionally, salespeople must have been licensed for at least three years prior to preparing BPOs and each BPO must be co-signed by their broker or associate broker. The law also outlines the minimum contents of a BPO and specifies that compensation due salespeople for a BPO be paid only to their affiliated broker.
The United States House of Representatives passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act by voice vote. It seeks to prohibit condemnations for economic development or over property that is used for economic development within seven years after that taking. It applies to state and local takings if that governmental entity receives federal economic development funds. It would also prohibit the federal government from exercising its power of eminent domain for economic development.
Many states have similar statutes. They were enacted in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.
The bill has been referred to the Senate for potential action.
The Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois (Chancery Division) ruled that attorneys who referenced comparable property valuations and market values based on an income approach as part of tax appeal proceedings were simply engaged in the traditional practice of law and not in appraisal practice. In Illinois State Bar Association vs. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, two attorneys were accused by the IDFPR of engaging in unlicensed appraisal practice after they submitted comparable property valuations, income approach information and market value opinions as part of two tax assessment appeals.
The main question before the court was whether an attorney representing a client in a tax proceeding violated the state’s Appraisal Act and functioned as an unlicensed appraiser when providing an analysis of comparable property valuations or developing an opinion of market value utilizing the income approach in a legal brief supporting a tax appeal. In its order granting summary judgement to the ISBA, the court stated, “There is nothing in the text and structure of the Appraisal Act that suggests that the General Assembly intended its prohibition on unlicensed appraisers to extend to what is the traditional practice of law in the property tax context.” The court further noted, “An attorney’s reference to comparable valuations in a property tax proceeding constitutes the practice of law, which is regulated exclusively by the Illinois Supreme Court.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a Philadelphia homeowner was not entitled to attorneys’ fees under a PA consumer protection law because filing affirmative defenses doesn’t qualify as filing an “action” under the law. In Bayview Loan Servicing LLC v. Rodger Lindsay, 15 EAP 2017, in response to a foreclosure complaint, a borrower alleged that the lender violated PA’s Loan Interest and Protection Law, also known as Act 6. The lender subsequently withdrew the complaint. The borrower sought a reimbursement of his legal fees. The Court rejected that request holding that “An affirmative defense is not an action, but rather is the statement of new facts and arguments that, if true, will defeat a plaintiff’s action.”
The Appraisal Institute reported that 21 pieces of legislation affecting the valuation profession are pending in 14 states. A list can be found at https://www.appraisalinstitute.org/advocacy/washington-report/washington-report-state-news-current-issue/#15
The House Financial Services Committee recently passed legislation exempting appraisers from having to conduct evaluations in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice for loans under $250,000 that were held in a portfolio for three years. Appraisals are not required for loans of $250,000 or less, but federal bank regulatory policy requires lenders to obtain an evaluation to understand the collateral risk involved with the loan. HR 3221 is intended to create greater flexibility for lenders.
The PA Commonwealth Court recently held that a claim of adverse possession could be brought against a municipality when the municipality’s only use of the property during the statutory period was to hold the property for possible future sale. In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, the City of Philadelphia obtained title to a property by condemnation in 1974. The City has not physically occupied or provided any maintenance of the Property since the late 1970s. The City filed a complaint against Galdo – the current owner of the property – for continuing trespass, permanent trespass, and ejectment, and Galdo filed a counterclaim to quiet title, claiming ownership by adverse possession.
The trial court found in favor of the City and ordered Galdo ejected from the disputed property. The trial court further determined that Galdo could not sustain a claim for adverse possession against the City because the Property was devoted to public use.
The Commonwealth Court, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the trial court finding that Galdo could bring a claim for adverse possession. The Court explained:
The City does not provide any analogous obligation imposed by law or evidence of any public use of the Property to justify holding and neglecting it for decades. Furthermore, were we to determine that a municipality that condemns and holds previously private property for possible future sale did so for a public use, we would essentially hold that municipalities could institute a taking of private property for a land bank, keeping the property until the market provides a considerable profit upon its sale. Such a holding would be detrimental to private property rights. The City is not, therefore, immune from Galdo’s counterclaim for adverse possession because it did not hold the Property pursuant to a legal obligation, or for public use.