Senator Fontana partners with Mayor Peduto on bill to empower Pittsburgh blight-fighting tool
March 9, 2021
State Sen. Wayne Fontana has partnered with Mayor William Peduto to introduce legislation to help the City of Pittsburgh land bank more efficiently acquire vacant and distressed properties and get them back onto the tax rolls.
Senator Fontana's bill would allow the Pittsburgh land bank to acquire properties at sheriff's sales at amounts equal to the outstanding claims and liens against the properties regardless of bids by other parties, similar to the powers granted to Philadelphia's land bank.
"The current Treasurer's Sale process used by the city is often a selective, long, and faulty process. By amending the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law, it provides the City of Pittsburgh with another efficient and inexpensive option in acquiring vacant or distress properties in our communities," Senator Fontana said.
The Pittsburgh land bank was created in 2014 following the adoption of state Act 153 of 2012, which allowed for community-based efforts to cut through red tape and acquire distressed and abandoned properties, and offer them to community groups and private entities seeking to revitalize neighborhoods. Since its creation, the land bank has been having difficulty clearing titles on properties and has been able to fully acquire only a few properties.
"The land bank process, which once showed so much promise, has obviously been frustrating for Pittsburgh neighborhoods but Senator Fontana's bill is what we need to finally turn it into the powerful, blight-fighting tool we expect it to be," Mayor William Peduto said. "It would be a win-win-win for neighborhoods, housing advocates and city taxpayers."
Senator Fontana has circulated a co-sponsorship memo on his proposed "Changes to the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law for Cities of the Second Class." The full memo reads as follows:
"Act 153 of 2012 provided Pennsylvania with a powerful tool for addressing blight and facilitating smart, community-based land recycling strategies. Because of this law, many land banks were created including the Pittsburgh Land Bank in 2014. While many land banks are thriving, my local land bank is struggling to succeed due to the difficulty in property acquisition.
"Currently, Pittsburgh utilizes the Second Class City Treasurer's Sale and Collection Act ("Treasurer's Sale" or "T-Sale"), authorized by Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL), for land recycling purposes. This does not result in a clean title until a separate quiet title action. For this reason, I plan on introducing legislation that would amend the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law (MCTLL) that would grant Cities of the Second Class the ability to acquire property at sheriff's sale by bidding an amount equal to the total amount of all municipal claims and liens regardless of bids by other parties. This is currently the process the Philadelphia's Lank Bank uses and it is believed that this would provide Pittsburgh land bank-type agencies a more efficient and inexpensive means of foreclosing municipal claims and tax liens in the city.
"Additionally, my bill would automatically create a judgment when a lien or claim is filed; Provide that the tax foreclosure (sheriff's sale) may be a free and clear sale; Provide for the city to object to a sale if the purchaser is debarred; Maintain the three-month redemption period available to the City of Pittsburgh under the current Treasurer's sale process; and Preserve the rights of a city of the Second Class may act as an agent for taxing bodies having claims against the property.
There are over 30,000 parcels that are vacant or distressed in the city of Pittsburgh resulting in over $4.8 million in lost tax revenue. My legislation would give our local land bank and URA one more tool to assist in their land recycling efforts thus benefiting the area communities and potentially providing for additional tax revenue."