The Pennsylvania legislature has been working on a number of bills to address different repercussions of the COVID-19 situation. Senate Bill 841 passed unanimously in the Senate and House, was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf yesterday, becoming Act 15, and becomes effective immediately. Though most of the bill is on different topics, it contains three elements relevant to real estate.
Property Tax Relief
Local government taxing districts (counties, cities, boroughs, townships and towns) have the option to extend the property tax discount payment period to as late as August 31, 2020 and/or waive any late payment penalties for any property tax paid in full by December 31, 2020.
These are voluntary options, which must be authorized by a vote of the taxing district within 30 days of the effective date of the law. Don’t assume either of these apply to you without first checking with your municipality. And note that these options do NOT exist for school districts, which in most cases have different tax years.
Local Government Meetings
Any local governmental entity is authorized to “conduct hearings, meetings, proceedings or other business through the use of an authorized telecommunications device” (any device that permits at least two-way audio communication) until the expiration or termination of the current emergency declaration. A member of the body will be considered “present” for the purposes of a quorum if that individual is attending the meeting remotely.
“To the extent practicable,” local governments still need to give public notice – including the date, time and technology to be used” – and allow public comment either by telecommunications technology or in advance, in writing. There are also a number of specific rules around consideration of development plans and the like.
On March 25, the Department of State waived certain notarial rules to allow for remote notarization of real estate documents until the emergency declaration is lifted. This bill incorporates that waiver into law and extends the waiver until 60 days after the declaration is lifted. There are really three important things for real estate practitioners to understand about these provisions:
- There are lots of hoops for a notary to jump through before being allowed to do remote notarization. If there’s a notary you use on a regular basis, don’t assume they’re able to work remotely just yet.
- Nothing requires an entity to accept a remote notarization instead of a “wet” signature (signed in ink). Though remote notary has now been available for several weeks, we continue to hear reports of lenders or others that are not accepting them.
- There’s nothing in the waiver that in any way permits in-person notarizations where those are otherwise banned under the governor’s orders. The bill allows for remote notarization, but if that won’t be acceptable in the transaction it doesn’t allow for the notary to meet with someone face-to face.