Philadelphia Zoning, Land Use, and Construction COVID-19 Update - August 6, 2020
The Ballard Spahr Zoning and Land Use Team is continuing to monitor all aspects of the Philadelphia land use approval process during the COVID-19 emergency, including the issuance of zoning and building permits, regulation of construction work, and changes to relevant court filing deadlines.
Currently, all major administrative and adjudicative bodies that regulate land use matters in Philadelphia are operating remotely or are on the verge of operating remotely. All information regarding new procedures for these administrative bodies can be found in our weekly update below. During this time, we recommend that applicants have patience with the land use approval process; delays are expected as each agency navigates this new terrain.
UPDATE ON REGISTERED COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION VIRTUAL MEETINGS
Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) in Philadelphia have more frequently been holding official, virtual public community meetings, which are required as part of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Civic Design Review zoning processes. All community organizations are different, and applicants should contact the appropriate zoning committee representative to discuss meeting logistics. For example, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and other platforms have been used by various groups. Some meetings are recorded, and neighbors may ask questions about the project by e-mail before, during, or after the RCO meeting. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has provided guidance to applicants and RCOs on best practices for community participation, and applicants should take care to document their RCO and neighbor notices and review the City’s recommended engagement process.
This is a current status report on a number of key items, including several changes since our July 24, 2020, update. We will continue to update this list, which may change as new information becomes available. Please call or email the Ballard Spahr Zoning and Land Use Team with any questions on this information; in particular, please consult with an attorney regarding all filing deadlines.
State and City Government – General
Pursuant to a March 19 order, updated on March 24, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all non-life sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations and to remain closed until further notice. The list of life sustaining and non-life sustaining businesses is available here. These non-life sustaining businesses were allowed to open on a phased, regional basis beginning May 8. On June 19, the Governor announced that Philadelphia County would be allowed to reopen on June 26.
In response to the Governor’s announcement, the Mayor of Philadelphia announced a plan for reopening Philadelphia. While the Governor authorized Philadelphia County to reopen effective June 26, based on local targets for progress, City officials are only allowing some activities to begin. The City’s plan is to slowly phase in new activities. Nonetheless, as the City reopens, City employees will slowly return to work and some public-facing services will return. We will continue to monitor how the reopening affects City offices.
On April 20, Governor Wolf signed into law Act 15, which allows public meetings and hearings to take place virtually. Under Act 15, local agencies may conduct public meetings or hearings through an “authorized telecommunications device” that allows, at a minimum, audio communication between individuals. The local agency must notify the public of the proceeding and allow for public participation to the extent practicable, with questions or comments submitted via email or postal mail.
Notably, Act 15 does not require local agencies to conduct virtual meetings, and municipalities retain their discretion to proceed with such meetings. If an applicant submits a request for a meeting and an agency does proceed, the applicant and parties receiving notice of the proceeding are deemed to have waived any challenge to the proceeding under laws governing notice or participation in the meeting. In Philadelphia, it is not clear if Act 15 covers meetings convened by Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), which hold public meetings as part of the Civic Design Review and Zoning Board of Adjustment processes. The current RCO meeting component is holding up many midsize to large projects in Philadelphia, even those that are as-of-right under the Philadelphia Zoning Code.
Lastly, due to COVID-19, the deadlines for all pending and incoming Right-To-Know requests are still suspended until normal operations resume. Urgent Right-To-Know inquiries may be directed to Feige Grundman at firstname.lastname@example.org. The inquiry should include an explanation detailing the urgent need for the information and a request that the relevant department, agency or office continue to review the inquiry during the period of official emergency declaration.
On June 11, construction work of all types was authorized in the City of Philadelphia. While construction may begin, construction sites must still comply with all applicable State and City guidance. All work must conform to the requirements of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued on April 15, 2020 (regarding business safety measures for in-person operations) and April 5, 2020, regarding building safety measures; all applicable guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (including the April 8, 2020, guidance regarding critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19); the Governor’s April 28, guidance regarding real estate industry operations; the Governor’s April 23, 2020, guidance regarding construction businesses; and the City’s Safer-At-Home guidance. Also, the Philadelphia’s Water Department must be notified of the project at email@example.com.
As of July 24, the City further eased construction requirements. Now, more than four individuals may work at a site for the construction or renovation of a one or two-family dwelling, and more than four individuals may work at a site that is enclosed and less than 2,000 square feet. All other regulations issued by the Governor and Mayor still apply.
L&I’s Audits and Investigations Unit is conducting patrols in order to ensure compliance with COVID-19 requirements. L&I is also tracking all stop-work orders issued for non-compliant work sites and will pursue action against non-compliant license holders. Failure to comply with the City’s order will result in the issuance of violations and corresponding fines of up to $2,000 per day of violation, the suspension or revocation of the contractor’s license, a referral to Commonwealth authorities, and any other remedies available under law.
Licenses and Inspections
L&I employees working on zoning and building permits are generally telecommuting. L&I’s online eCLIPSE permitting and licensing system has been live since mid-March. In general, all electronic applications are being processed under standard review times. Since the majority of applications are being processed in less than 10 days, L&I has suspended accelerated review. Currently, L&I is in the final stages of processing all paper applications received before the shutdown. L&I guidance on obtaining permits for pre-eCLIPSE applications is available here. We have successfully obtained permits based on pre-eCLIPSE applications. If you have not received any information regarding your paper application, you should submit your inquiry to L&I via 311 using an online form available here. All physical copies of issued permits will be held at the Municipal Services Building at 1401 JFK Boulevard, but electronic copies will be made available, along with electronic billing statements. Individuals can pick up their permits and plans from the Municipal Services Building by appointment only. Individuals can also file permit applications and drop off additional materials by appointment. Additionally, L&I increased all fees, excluding inspection and administrative fees on July 1. The new fee schedule can be found here.
L&I maintains a crew of inspectors who prioritize inspections based on the severity of building and safety issues. Crewmembers will also conduct inspections for compliance with violation orders. The Department requests that all inspections be scheduled through its Interactive Voice Recognition system (IVR). Instructions for IVR are available here. If a contractor needs to meet a critical deadline, he/she should submit an inquiry to L&I via 311 using an online form available here.
Notably, contractors will not be able to schedule inspections if their licenses are not up to date. To schedule an inspection, the contractor must update his/her insurance and tax clearance documents in eCLIPSE. To obtain a “make safe” permit for a dangerous building, an appointment must be scheduled with L&I. Instructions for requesting a “make safe” permit are available here.
L&I has suspended the expiration of previously issued permits during the shutdown. The expiration dates on all construction permits active on or after March 16 have been extended by six months. An additional six-month extension may be requested upon the expiration of the extended period. These extensions do not apply to fire code, make safe, or rough-in permits. All zoning permits, including conditional zoning permits, active on or after March 16 have also been extended by six months. This extension is not in addition to any extension issued by the Zoning Board of Adjustment; all permits granted by variance or special exception are still subject to ZBA regulation. Similar to construction permits, zoning permits can be extended one time for up to one year. Lastly, all permit applications active on or after March 16 have been extended for six months from the date that the permit would be deemed abandoned. This extension, however, does not apply if there have been subsequent submissions. Notwithstanding the new extensions, applicants may still receive automated L&I notifications with the old dates. The system-generated expiration dates will, however, be updated by L&I.
Furthermore, on July 2, L&I published additional regulations pertaining to variances and special exceptions issued by the Zoning Board of Adjustment between September 16, 2019 and March 16, 2020. Pursuant to the regulation, all individuals who received variances and special exceptions during this time period may file for an administrative review any time within 360 days of issuance of the special exception or variance.
The Board of License and Inspection Review has also issued regulations pertaining to appeal deadlines. As of May 22, any appeal of an action for which the appeal deadline would have fallen on or after March 13, 2020, will be deemed timely if filed by June 8, 2020, or the deadline applicable under the Philadelphia Code, whichever is later. The regulations also provide detailed instructions on how to file appeals. The regulations can be found here. Furthermore, all appeals currently before the Board will be stayed until further notice unless the Board determines an emergency warrants immediate consideration. An emergency is defined as anything that immediately concerns public health, safety, and welfare.
Anyone requesting an emergency hearing must complete an Emergency Hearing Appeal Form within five business days of the permit issuance, refusal or violation and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Joanna.email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Upon receipt of the form, the Board will either deny the request or schedule an emergency hearing that will take place virtually. If a hearing is scheduled, all parties must comply with the Board’s recently issued emergency regulations, which can be found here. Notably, all continuance requests must be submitted to the Board at least three days prior to the hearing, and all evidence must be submitted at least three days in advance of the hearing.
Permit denials and the ability to appeal are currently available through eCLIPSE if the denial was issued on eCLIPSE after March 15. Individuals can make amendments via eCLIPSE if the application was filed on eCLIPSE; amendments to pre-eCLIPSE documents must be submitted by mail or by contacting L&I. In addition, the Board of Building Standards and the Plumbing Advisory Board hope to begin holding hearings virtually soon. Participation in the hearings will be optional.
Zoning Board of Adjustment
The Zoning Board of Adjustment began holding bi-weekly virtual hearings on July 14. All hearings will be conducted via Zoom. Agendas for the upcoming hearings can be found here. For appeals filed on or after March 13, and appeals filed prior to March 13, but not yet scheduled for a hearing, the ZBA will schedule the matter for an original hearing and notify the appellant at least 21 days in advance. For appeals scheduled to be heard after March 13, the ZBA will reschedule any hearing that was cancelled or otherwise continued and notify the appellant at least 14 days prior. For appeals not involving a request for a variance or special exception, the ZBA will schedule the matter for a hearing and notify the appellant at least seven days in advance.
All appellants who had a hearing scheduled after March 13 that was subsequently cancelled and rescheduled are not required to re-send individual notifications, but the ZBA recommends re-notifying all parties. Furthermore, at least five days prior to the scheduled hearing, appellants must email to the ZBA an exhibit packet that includes all information required by the Zoning Code. Failure to submit an exhibit packet may cause the ZBA to continue or dismiss the matter.
Pursuant to the regulations, the deadline for filing an appeal for all matters where the appeal deadline fell between March 13 and June 21 was July 6. For all matters where the appeal deadline falls on June 22 or later, the appeal deadline shall be as set forth in the Zoning Code (generally, within 30 days of a decision). The ZBA has advised that because the ZBA office remains closed, all appeals must be filed through eCLIPSE or by mail. Appeals mailed to the ZBA must be sent via USPS and must include a check or money order for the filing fee. The postmark date will be considered the filing date, meaning that it may not be possible to confirm whether an appeal has been filed until several days after the filing deadlines.
Posting and Notice Requirements
Notification signs for hearings must be posted at least 21 days prior to the hearing date, and notification signs for continued hearings must be posted at least 14 days prior to the hearing date. The content for these signs will be provided by the ZBA and may not be altered by the applicant; the new form of notice will include information regarding the telecommunications technologies being used to conduct the hearing and methods of public access and comment. All Zoning Code requirements relating to reposting, sign removal, and the posting of refusals and referrals remain in effect. The ZBA may require an applicant to provide proof that the posting requirements have been met.
If a ZBA hearing has been scheduled, but a coordinating Registered Community Organization (RCO) is unable to organize a community meeting, the ZBA shall defer to the recommendation of the Planning Commission regarding the treatment of the ZBA hearing unless the District Councilperson objects or the ZBA finds that the recommendation imposes an undue burden upon the applicant or other persons or entities, including the RCO(s). (Pursuant to Planning Commission regulations issued last week, if an RCO is unable to hold a meeting within the 45-day meeting period, the Planning Commission may ask the District Councilperson to select another coordinating RCO or may make an alternate recommendation to the ZBA that best serves the “interests of the City of Philadelphia.”)
New ZBA Hearing Procedures
For ZBA hearings through September 20, all documentary evidence must be submitted to the ZBA five days prior to the scheduled hearing in the manner and format provided on the ZBA’s website. The ZBA encourages individuals to send exhibits in as few files as possible or to utilize DropBox. If the ZBA receives a late submission or the submission does not comply with the manner and format required, the ZBA may reschedule the hearing. All submitted evidence will be displayed over the course of the hearing as directed by the parties. In addition, all parties must submit a list of witnesses five days prior to the scheduled hearing. The list should include a telephone number for the witness, the witness’ address, and on whose behalf each witness is appearing. If the ZBA does not receive the witness list in a timely manner, the ZBA may reschedule the hearing.
The order of each hearing will be as follows: (i) presentation by the applicant; (ii) presentation by any participant represented by counsel; (iii) presentation by any unrepresented, interested party or attendee; and (iv) recommendation from the Planning Commission.
Each hearing will be recorded and participation by any person joining the hearing will constitute consent to being recorded. All participants will be required to complete an appearance statement asserting their name, address, email address, and on whose behalf they are appearing. At the conclusion of each hearing, the Chair will poll the Board and query whether the individual members are prepared to vote. If the members are prepared to vote, the members will verbally report their vote for the record. If the members are not ready to vote and wish to discuss the case amongst themselves, the Chair will announce the date of the executive session when the case will be discussed and the members will vote at the next scheduled hearing.
The ZBA has also extended the expiration dates on all approvals issued by the Board if the approval would have expired on March 15, 2020, through December 31, 2020. All such approvals have been extended by 180 days from the date that the approval would have expired.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
By order of Gov. Tom Wolf, PADEP offices throughout the Commonwealth remain closed. However, much of the regional staff is telecommuting and reachable in connection with inquiries on the status of pending environmental approvals/applications. The U.S. EPA remains open via telecommuting options, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is reachable.
Developers may have some flexibility in their efforts to comply with environmental laws, at least as far as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned. Provided that “good faith” efforts are made to comply, and incidents of non-compliance are remedied and documented, EPA’s latest enforcement guidelines offer some understandable relief as companies struggle to comply with COVID-19 requirements. The policy should apply to enforcement of nearly all federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and its NPDES storm water pre- and post-construction permit control requirements. PADEP has chosen to handle such matters on a case-by-case basis, requiring those who have failed to comply as a result of the COVID-19 crisis to submit an application for an enforcement waiver. Here is a link to our Environmental Group’s alert on that topic. Here is a link to the previous Ballard Spahr alert discussing the EPA policy.
On April 7, the PADEP announced guidance regarding Chapter 102 Earth Disturbance Permits. Only those permittees that are engaged in life-sustaining businesses may continue to move earth. Non-life sustaining business are directed to cease further site work, stabilize the site, and wait for contrary determinations. Ballard Spahr’s Environmental Group has prepared an alert on that and other guidance announced by PADEP in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Furthermore, PADEP has expanded its menu of online permitting functions, enabling the business community to take advantage of what PADEP believes is a more streamlined permit application and review experience. PADEP is also promoting use of the tool because it increases the efficiency of its permit reviewers now working from home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. PADEP notes that previous online permitting options will remain in place, and for those taking advantage of the earlier programs, the existing portals should continue to be used. For the new slug of permits online, here is a helpful link to application materials with instructions and guidance. Those with questions can email Harry Weiss, leader of Ballard Spahr’s Environment and Natural Resources Group, at email@example.com.
The EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Policy
The EPA announced that as of August 31, 2020, its temporary enforcement policy, which loosened as a result of COVID-19, ends.
In general, the termination will impact those that were in some cases eligible to be excused from compliance duties under circumstances that made it difficult for environmental requirements to be met. For example, under the temporary enforcement policy, entities that were impacted by COVID-19 workforce stay at home orders, illness among environmental management staff, and even actual company slow or shut downs were eligible for enforcement relief. A link to our earlier alert about the temporary policy can be found here.
In recognition of the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 crisis, including the recent surge in cases across the sunbelt, it’s important to note that there is a fair chance that the decision to terminate the temporary enforcement policy will be revisited on or before the termination date. Indeed, the termination notice expressly allows for rethinking of the termination over the summer. In the meantime, however, friends and clients should begin to plan for enforcement as normal to restart at the end of August and consider a review of federal permits to ensure that compliance obligations are being met.
For the development and property management industry, in particular, typical permits that should be re-reviewed for compliance duties include stormwater discharge permits issued under the federal Clean Water Act (generally known as NPDES permits) that regulate pre- and post-construction stormwater control discharges.
It’s also important to review state requirements, as some states continue to have in place an enforcement waiver process for environmental compliance impacted by COVID-19.
Linear Infrastructure Permitting
A Federal District Court in Montana has invalidated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 because the court found that the Corps did not, while reauthorizing the general permit in 2017, take into proper account the impact of use of the permit on certain endangered species. As a result, work on the Keystone XL Pipeline through areas of Montana has been impacted. The permit has been relied upon by developers of linear infrastructure projects, as it authorizes the filling of jurisdictional wetlands along the route of such developments as electric transmission projects, gas pipeline projects, rail projects, etc. The decision in Northern Plains Resource Council v. United States Army Corps of Engineers can be reviewed here, and has left developers of such projects scrambling to identify other Nationwide Permits that may be utilized to keep projects moving forward and avoid the need to seek individual wetland fill permits for work along the entire route.
Zoning and building permits should still be posted on properties in the normal course, to the extent possible. Please contact our Zoning and Land Use Team for any assistance.
The Philadelphia Streets Department is focusing its essential personnel on emergency repairs, so inspections of existing projects may be delayed. At least some employees involved in plan approval currently are telecommuting and are actively monitoring projects. The Streets Department is actively working on preparing surveyors to review subdivision and lot line relocation plans remotely, although plans are not currently being reviewed. Plan Review Counter Submissions (Checklist no. 1) may be submitted online only through the L&I eCLIPSE system. All Plan Review Intake Submissions (Checklists nos. 2, 3, and 4) must be submitted electronically to StreetsROW.PlanReview@phila.gov. Developer Services Meetings deemed necessary by staff may be held remotely.
If a permit has expired or is approaching expiration as a result of work stoppage due to COVID-19, the Department advises individuals to email the permit number and their contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org to request a permit extension.
The Water Department’s offices are closed to the public; however, Private Development Services’ staff members are working remotely. Staff members are conducting storm water plan reviews, utility plan reviews, water and sewer sign-offs, along with other reviews. Delays should be expected for all reviews, especially utility plan reviews. There is a backlog in utility plan reviews, and applicants should expect at least a three-week turnaround. All general questions and meeting requests should be sent to email@example.com. Staff members are not answering the office phone lines. Additional information about submitting materials and payments can be found here.
Any zoning, demolition, site or building permit that requires PWD sign-off must be applied for via eCLIPSE. PWD is unable to sign-off on paper permit applications at this time. Therefore, applicants with paper permits must contact L&I to covert the paper permit to an application on eCLIPSE. PWD has also created a new Electronic Pre-Application Form. This form is recommended for projects that have yet to make an ERSA Application, but wish to meet with PWD virtually in advance of submission to discuss the project.
The Water Department is also processing plumbing permits for new connections, repairs, service discontinuances, backflow protection, and meters. For all new connection requests, applicants must have a pre-permit, which can be requested by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. The request should include acceptable documentation, an approved Utility Plan, a list of the pre-permits being requested, and the name and license number of the plumber performing the work. Once a pre-permit is created, the applicant must call 215.768.8323 for the permit to be issued. More information about plumbing permits can be found here, and payment information can be found here. The Water Department is also currently granting time extensions to expiration dates for project permits and approvals impacted by the shutdown. Time extensions only apply to PWD-issued permits and approvals.
Regular billing will continue, but PWD waived late payment fees for all customers through July 10. While late payment fees began accruing after July 10, PWD will not terminate service for customers through August 31.
The Stormwater Incentives Team has extended the Stormwater Grant application deadline to September 15 at 8:00 am. Pre-application meetings can now be scheduled. Applicants must schedule a pre-application meeting by August 14. The team encourages individuals to email all questions to PWDStormwaterCredits@phila.gov. The account is being monitored periodically, but delays are expected.
Department of Records
The Philadelphia Department of Records is slowly reopening. In-person services are still unavailable but limited staff are now in-office to help process mail, email, and phone requests. Also, e-recording via third-party vendors is still operating. Delays may be expected.
Department of Planning and Development
The Department of Planning and Development has issued emergency regulations governing “deemed approvals” by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia Art Commission, and their various committees, including the Civic Design Review Committee and the Sign Committee of the Art Commission. From March 18 through 60 days after the termination of the Mayor’s Emergency Order, the non-performance of review by these agencies, their respective committees or staff, in connection with any applications, plans, materials, or other documents will not constitute a deemed approval or a deemed denial of any such applications, plans, materials or documents subject to review.
Philadelphia Historical Commission
While the offices of the Philadelphia Historical Commission are closed, staff members are still working remotely. General inquiries, approvals, complaints, and nominations can be emailed to email@example.com. Staff members will review nominations for correctness and completeness and prepare them for processing for when the Commission is back in session. The staff can also review and approve most applications without referral to the Commission itself. Additional information can be found here.
Requests for guidance on proposed construction projects should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email should include: the street address of the property, contact information for the person responsible for the project, the name of the property owner, a description of the proposal, photographs, architectural plans, and copies of any historic documentation.
The Historical Commission is now meeting remotely. Members of the public can watch or listen to the Commission’s meetings via WebEx. The public may also submit comments either through WebEx or via email at email@example.com. More information about upcoming meetings can be found here.
Philadelphia Art Commission
Art Commission staff members are working remotely. The full Art Commission will not meet in August. The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for September 2. Details about upcoming meetings can be found here.
Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC)
Staff members at the Planning Commission are working remotely, although, delays should be expected. Staff members are reviewing plans submitted on eCLIPSE and amendments to master plans. PCPC is working with L&I to develop a plan for requests for modifications to previous approvals. PCPC staff will provide comments on any proposed legislation, a draft of which should be sent to staff members; requesting parties should keep in mind that all legislation is subject to the discretion of City Council. Reviews of applications related to steep slopes, frontages, and landscapes are being completed in a timely manner. Reviews of applications related to watersheds or lot lines are delayed due to the inaccessibility of maps located in PCPC’s offices. Staff members are also conducting Urban Design reviews through eCLIPSE. Loading waivers are being processed through email, and staff members are available to provide preliminary Civic Design Review comments by email at CDR@phila.gov.
The Civic Design Review Committee held its first CDR meeting on June 9. More information about upcoming meetings can be found here.
Furthermore, on June 16, PCPC issued temporary regulations. Pursuant to the temporary regulations, PCPC must send out notices as soon as practicable for any appeal or referral to the Civic Design Review (CDR) Committee that has or will occur between March 13 and September 30. The date on which the notice is received shall constitute the date of receipt under the Zoning Code.
With respect to Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), PCPC has extended the 45-day meeting period by an additional 45 days for all coordinating RCOs whose 45-day meeting period began prior to March 13 and expired between March 13 and September 30. Furthermore, from March 13 through September 30, all coordinating RCOs will be deemed to have met the public meeting requirements if they hold their meeting within 45 days of receiving notice. Virtual meetings hosted through telecommunications technology will satisfy the public meeting requirements. If a coordinating RCO cannot host a public meeting, they must contact PCPC, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), the CDR Committee, and the applicable District Councilperson prior to the date of the scheduled ZBA hearing and/or CDR meeting. PCPC may then ask the District Councilperson to select another coordinating RCO or PCPC may make an alternate recommendation to the ZBA and/or CDR that best serves the “interests of the City of Philadelphia.”
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation
Tree Management staff members are conducting plan reviews on a limited schedule. Plans can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays via a phone call to Robin Klink at 215.683.0213, or by email at Robin.Klink@phila.gov. Once the plan has been reviewed, a notification will be sent by email and plans may be picked up based on the above schedule.
Tax Abatement Applications
According to the Chief Deputy City Solicitor of the Property Assessment Unit, tax abatement applications can still be mailed to the Office of Property Assessment or emailed to Drew.Aldinger@phila.gov. The application will be deemed received on the postmark date. If the deadline to file an abatement application expires while the OPA is closed, the application will still be accepted and considered timely if received within forty-five (45) days of the reopening of the OPA.
On April 1, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ordered that, except for certain essential functions, court facilities in all judicial districts in Pennsylvania shall be closed to the public through at least April 30 due to a statewide judicial emergency. The Supreme Court subsequently amended its order and extended the statewide judicial emergency to June 1, but mandated that beginning May 4, unless otherwise provided by a local emergency order, Pennsylvania courts shall be open to conduct all court business, with certain caveats. On May 27, the Supreme Court issued an order terminating its statewide judicial emergency as of June 1. The Supreme Court explained, however, that local administrative orders and emergencies are allowed to remain in full force and effect. Philadelphia County courts are still under a local emergency order—that is, Order No. 33.
Pursuant to Order No. 33, all civil and criminal jury trials in the First Judicial District are suspended through September 8. Landlord-tenant appeals and City of Philadelphia L&I and lead contamination violation cases are postponed. All in-person civil and municipal court trials, hearings, and conferences scheduled through July 6 were administratively canceled and shall be rescheduled. Counsel will be notified about the status of their respective hearings. All prior suspensions of time requirements, time limitations, or filing deadlines expired on May 11.
Governor Tom Wolf also ordered that foreclosures requiring compliance with Pennsylvania’s Loan Interest and Protection Law or Pennsylvania’s Homeowners Emergency Assistance Act cannot commence until August 31. Similarly, eviction proceedings requiring compliance with the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 and the Manufactured Home Community Rights Act cannot commence until August 31. Timelines for evictions and foreclosures will be computed with a start date of August 31. This order only applies to foreclosures and evictions enacted due to a lack of payment or because a tenant overstayed a lease.
On July 2, the First Judicial District issued an order pertaining to all landlord-tenant cases within their jurisdiction. Pursuant to the order, all landlord-tenant cases currently scheduled to be heard by the Municipal Court from July 6 to September 2 have been postponed and will be rescheduled beginning on or after September 3. Courts began accepting new landlord-tenant actions for filing on July 13; however, they will not be scheduled for a hearing until on or after November 16. Lastly, the issuance and service of writs of possession and of possession and alias writs of possession, is stayed until September 3. More information can be found here. In every action by a landlord against a tenant for the recovery of real property filed from March 27, 2020 through August 24, 2020, the landlord must provide an affidavit of compliance attesting to compliance with the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Additionally, the First Judicial District has issued a stay until at least September 8 for appeals from judgments of possession of real property pursuant to a lease filed before March 16.