Community Associations Institute’s Pennsylvania Legislative Action Committee (CAI PA LAC) applauds Governor Tom Wolf for affixing his signature to Senate Bill 1282, legislation that will reign in skyrocketing fees charged by Recorder of Deeds in many counties across Pennsylvania for the recording of amendments to association Declarations. The Governor signed the Bill on Friday, November 4, 2016, bringing a conclusion to a five year effort by CAI PA LAC to put an end to the recording fee scheme adopted by over a third of Pennsylvania’s counties. Act 162 of 2016 will take effect on January 3, 2017 and will save community associations throughout Pennsylvania tens of thousands of dollars in recording fees.
Senate Bill 1282 was introduced by Senator Scott Wagner (R-York County) on June 2, 2016 and passed the State Senate by a vote of 48-2 on June 30, 2016. It then moved to the House of Representatives where it faced very stiff opposition from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Recorder of Deeds Association, which resorted to outrageous and sometimes untrue arguments to try to defeat the legislation. The Bill finally passed the House by a vote of 177-3 on October 26, 2016 and, since it was amended, had to go back to the Senate for a vote of concurrence. Opponents of the Bill mounted a last ditch effort to sway Senators who had previously voted for the Bill and were successful in convincing several of them to change their votes. In the end, CAI’s arguments about fairness for homeowners won the day with a Senate vote of concurrence of 29-18. The Bill was sent to the Governor and was signed on November 4.
The Bill clarifies the manner in which county Recorders of Deeds may assess fees regarding the amendment of declarations for condominiums or planned communities. Often, homeowners in a community association must vote to amend the declaration, sometimes to comply with state or federal requirements. Under state statute, all amendments to a declaration must be recorded. Unfortunately, what has historically been an administrative act at minimal expense, has become a large and growing financial burden.
Approximately one third of Pennsylvania counties have, in recent years, implemented a requirement to index each declaration amendment against each parcel number in the condominium or planned community, for which the Recorder of Deeds has adopted a “per parcel” fee as high as $10.00 or, in some counties, $15.00. For decades, such recordings were simply made against a “master parcel” – or the original recorded parcel upon the creation of an association – against which all other parcels and residents are automatically recorded. Senate Bill 1282 codifies this practice. The legislation states “all counties shall assign a master parcel number to each association, and every amendment to a Declaration shall be indexed against the master parcel.” The legislation permits amendments to be filed against all parcels in the association if required by a county but states that “no fees shall be charged to each unit unless the indexing against each parcel is requested by the Declarant or Association.”
CAI’s PA LAC worked on a solution to this issue for nearly five years. In that time, the practice of per parcel recording fees spread from a handful of counties to nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and the original fee of $10 per parcel crept up to $15 or $20 in some counties. CAI documented cases where associations with hundreds and even thousands of homes were being charged thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to record a simple two or three page document. The outrageousness of the practice was confirmed by nearly every legislator CAI met with and is reflected in the strong votes in favor of the legislation, despite a huge effort by opponents to stop this Bill.
In the end, common sense won, as did Pennsylvania’s homeowners.
After seeing three top priority bills signed into law this session, PA LAC is now working to formulate an agenda for the new legislative session which will get underway in January, 2017. Included in the issues the LAC is likely to take on is a continuing effort to pass legislation requiring county governments to be transparent with data on community associations, legislation to provide assistance to owners of private dams, many of which are community associations, to meet the financial obligations imposed under the Dam Safety and Encroachment Act, as well as an effort to extend the authority of associations to collect assessments from delinquent unit owners.
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