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Selling And Buying A Home In Pennsylvania Just Got Easier

By HOM Editor
April 2017

Sidewalk cracks. Missing house numbers. These were the types of minor code violations that municipal code inspectors in Pennsylvania were using to classify homes “unfit for habitation” and thus unfit for sale. The unrealistic standard of maintenance hurt both homeowners and home buyers.

The Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA), a subsidiary of the Bucks, Montgomery and Suburban West associations of REALTORS®, has a history of advocating for public policy that benefits homeowners and real estate markets. The excessive inspection issues that were disrupting area housing transactions were very much on their radar.

“This abuse of real estate consumers was occurring because there was too much ambiguity in the state law.”

“This abuse of real estate consumers was occurring because there was too much ambiguity in the state law,” said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of the SRA. “By withholding the resale certificate, inspectors were essentially taking away a seller’s ability to negotiate the expense of repairs. This was even occurring in short sales, when sellers had no financial ability to make the repairs.”

SRA staff began talking to REALTOR® and state Rep. Jamie Santora (R-163rd) about the property maintenance inspection issues shortly after his election in 2014. The focus of their discussions centered on the refusal of some municipal inspectors to issue “use and occupancy” permits due to minor code violations found during resale inspections. The SRA felt that inspectors were taking advantage of their ability to label homes “unfit for habitation” because it allowed them, under the old state law, to force sellers to remedy code issues prior to a real estate settlement.

Having experienced these same issues himself during real estate transactions in and near his legislative district in Delaware County, Rep. Santora was eager to find a solution. The SRA worked closely with the government affairs staff of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors to help Santora craft an amendment to the state law. They also met with numerous state legislators to promote the bill.

After learning that another, simpler amendment to the state law was already moving through the legislature, Santora spoke to that bill’s sponsor, who agreed to allow the additional language to be added.  The final result, HB 1437, included a major amendment by Rep. Santora  that closed PA Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act loopholes that were allowing some municipal code inspectors to stifle home sales with excessive citations.

The bill was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in November 2016. As a result, municipalities that require inspections prior to sale must provide clearer guidance to local code enforcement officials. The bill also creates a new category of certificate (“Temporary Access”) that allows buyers of homes deemed “unfit for habitation” to go ahead with their purchase and gives them 12 months from the date of purchase to complete repairs. Additionally, HB 1437 prohibits escrow requirements by municipalities as a condition of issuing a resale permit. Large escrow requirements in some municipalities had made selling homes very difficult.

It’s a new day for real estate consumers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.Click To Tweet

“It’s a new day for real estate consumers in the Commonwealth thanks to Rep. Santora’s efforts,” said SRA Chairman Chris Beadling, a REALTOR® and member of the Bucks County Association of REALTORS®. “No longer will municipalities be able to strip away the right to negotiate real estate transactions.”

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