In Landlord Service Bureau, Inc. v. the City of Pittsburgh, No. 1026 C.D. 2021 (Pa Commw., decided March 17, 2023), the Commonwealth Court found the City of Pittsburgh’s Residential Housing Rental Permit Program violated Section 2962(f) of the Home Rule Law, 53 C.S. §2962(f)
In 2015, the City of Pittsburgh (“City”) enacted an ordinance known as the Residential Housing Rental Permit Program (“Ordinance”). The purpose of the Ordinance was to ensure that owners corrected violations and maintained their properties for the health and safety of rental housing residents. The Ordinance mandated owners:
- Obtain occupancy permits;
- Provide personal and private data to be used for a public database;
- Allow inspections of their properties;
- Designate a responsible local agent, authorized repairman, and rent collector; and
- For those owners outside of Allegheny County, hire a licensed real estate management firm located in Allegheny County for purposes of operating, providing access to and accepting legal service with respect to rental units.
Landlord Service Bureau, Inc. v. The City of Pittsburgh
The Landlord Service Bureau, Inc. (“the Bureau”), a consortium of property owners and property managers in the City, filed a Complaint with the court of common pleas. The trial court held that the Ordinance was a “valid exercise of police powers, enacted to protect the health and safety of rental housing residents.” The Bureau appealed this decision asserting that the Ordinance violated the Home Rule Law. The Bureau also raised various constitutional challenges to the Ordinance.
The Court set forth that the Home Rule Law permits home rule authority over matters which are not denied by the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pennsylvania Statute, or the applicable home rule charter. Specifically, Section 2962(f) prohibits a home rule municipality from adopting a charter which determines duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers and burden commercial interests except as expressly provided by statutes which are applicable in every part of [the] Commonwealth. In other words, the home rule charter cannot regulate the conduct of a business unless clearly authorized by statute.
The Home Rule Law Violation
In reversing the trial court and finding the Ordinance violative of the Home Rule Law, the Court held that the Ordinance imposed affirmative and numerous duties and requirements on owners above and beyond mere registration and permitting. The Court was unable to find an express statute applicable to the whole of the Commonwealth or to the subset of municipalities which permitted such affirmative requirements. Per express limitations of Section 2962(f) of the Home Rule Law, the City was without authority to enact the Ordinance.
Speak with an experienced Pennsylvania real estate lawyer to learn how these violations may impact you.
Pennsylvania Home Rule Law Updates
No request for an appeal was filed by the City to the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen what the City will enact, if anything, to replace the Ordinance; however, for now, the burdensome requirements in place since 2015 are no longer required. For owners, this will allow for an uncomplicated and straightforward rental process.