12 High Swartz Attorneys named to 2020 PA Super Lawyers® and Rising Stars Lists

2020 marks some impressive milestones and new additions to the PA Super Lawyers® and Rising Stars Lists.

High Swartz is pleased to announce that 12 of its attorneys have been named to the 2020 Super Lawyers® and Rising Starts list. A full service law firm, High Swartz has offices in Norristown in Montgomery County Pa and in Doylestown in Bucks County PA. Congratulations go out to the attorneys listed below.

2020 Attorneys on the Super Lawyers® List

Melissa M. Boyd: Missy again is listed as one of the 100 Top Lawyers in PA, Top 100 Lawyers in the Philadelphia area and top 50 female attorneys in Pennsylvania for Family Law.

David J. Brooman: 2020 marks the 2nd consecutive year for David’s inclusion in the Super Lawyers® list. David was listed for his outstanding environmental law work in Montgomery County.

Mary Cushing Doherty: Mary is no stranger to the Super Lawyers® list. She joins Missy on the 100 Top Lawyers in PA, Top 100 Lawyers in the Philadelphia area and top 50 female attorneys in Pennsylvania for Family Law.

Mark R. Fischer, Jr.: Mark was nominated for inclusion in his third consecutive Super Lawyers® list for his outstanding firm contributions in civil litigation defense work.

Gilbert P. High, Jr.: 2020 marks Gil’s 15th consecutive year on the Super Lawyers® list. His legal acuity in State and local Municipal work continue to keep him on the top.

Thomas E. Panzer: His second consecutive year on the Super Lawyers® List, Tom is recognized for his Workers’ Compensation Law practice.

Thomas D. Rees: Tom joins Gil as another top attorney with 15 consecutive years on the list. Tom was included for his work in Employment and Labor Law.

Joel D. Rosen: Our managing partner was included for the 4th consecutive year for his outstanding work in Business and Corporate law.

Richard C. Sokorai: Rich returns to the Super Lawyers® list and is recognized in 2020 for his business litigation legal work.

2020 High Swartz Attorneys on the Super Lawyers® – Rising Stars List

Kevin Cornish: 2020 marks Kevin’s ninth consecutive year on the Rising Stars list for his work as a regional general litigator.

Elizabeth C. Early: Liz has been nominated to her 4th consecutive Rising Stars list for her legal work in Family Law in Montgomery County.

Stephen M. Zaffuto: Nominated to his first Rising Stars list is 2020, Stephen joins the others on the list for his experience in Real Estate law in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

How are Super Lawyers® selected?

Super Lawyers® uses a patented multiphase selection process, including nominations, independent research and peer evaluations. Lawyers enter the candidate pool by one of 4 ways – by a managing partner survey, nomination by other lawyers, third party feedback, or identification by Super Lawyers® themselves.

Step two in the selection process is independent research and the evaluation is based on 12 indicators of professional legal achievement and recognition by peers. Those indicators are:

  • Verdicts/Settlements
  • Transactions
  • Representative Clients
  • Legal Experience
  • Legal Honors and Awards
  • Special licenses or legal certifications
  • Standing within the law firm
  • Bar Association or professional activity
  • Legal Pro Bono work and community service
  • Lectures and legal writings
  • Education and employment background
  • Other outstanding legal services/achievements

Step 3 involves the candidates with the highest total number of points from steps 1 and 2 which serve on a blue ribbon panel. These panelists then evaluate other candidates within their primary practice area.

Step 4 is the final selection. A representative number of small, medium and large size law firms are selected. The Super Lawyers list recognizes no more than 5 percent of attorneys in each state. The Rising Stars list recognizes no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys in each state. To be eligible for inclusion in Rising Stars, a candidate must be either 40 years old or younger, or in practice for 10 years or less.

If you are in need of legal assistance, please call 1.833.529.1914 or use our contact form to email us.

Business Interruption Insurance in PA – Are You Really Covered During the Pandemic?

Many business owners had insurance policies that included “business interruption” coverage. If the pandemic isn’t business interruption, what is?

As the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 swept into the United States and stay at home orders and mandatory business closures rolled out of governors’ offices like water over Niagara Falls, business owners, small, medium and large, sought out help from any source possible. Unfortunately, “business interruption” insurance policies have many exclusions and what a layperson would assume would be included is actually excluded from coverage.

Business Interruption in many cases is being linked to one thing

It seems as though the insurance industry linked arms and denied all claims for business interruption caused by the pandemic. Business interruption coverage is usually found in property coverage; meaning there must be property damage that causes the business interruption. The insurance carriers have taken the position that government shut down due to a virus is not covered.

What if a virus is not excluded in my policy? Is my business covered then?

Some policies do have specific exclusions for viruses and mold, among other things. But that raises the question, if a virus rises to the level of being specifically excluded in some policies, what if it is not excluded in my policy? Wouldn’t my losses be covered then? It depends on the type of policy and the language in the policy.

Courts in some jurisdictions have found that business interruption coverage is triggered where “property” is rendered unusable or unfit for its intended purpose, including being contaminated, even where there is no physical property damage.

Don’t throw away those receipts just yet

The approach taken by the insurance industry has given rise to numerous lawsuits seeking coverage under common business interruption clauses under several different theories. More than a dozen cases have already been filed seeking to have state and federal courts in various jurisdictions determine that losses due from closure as a result of the virus actually are included in these property damage policies. Some cases rely on the theory that the property is contaminated as a result of the virus. Some argue that under an “all-risk” policy closures due to orders of civil authorities are covered by the policy’s broad language.

States vs. Insurance Carriers

Not waiting for a decision in these pending cases, Travelers Insurance has filed a declaratory judgment action seeking an order that losses from temporary closures due to governmental actions taken to slow the spread of the pandemic did not result in property damage and was not covered by the Business Income loss provisions of its policy.

And numerous states, including Pennsylvania, have pending legislation to retroactively require insurance carriers to honor these claims (especially for small business owners) with compensation to the carriers coming from other funds.

This is still an ongoing fight, with points of law from prior litigation supporting both sides of the argument. How various courts decide the issue may determine whether business owners have valid claims under the terms of their own policies. It may still come down to the language in a specific type of policy and what exclusions are spelled out. But the approach initially taken of turning down all claims may not hold up. The courts may “deny” the carriers’ claims; an irony not lost on many.

As this is still an evolving issue, you may want stay in touch with your broker or counsel if you have business interruption insurance and you have losses due to state mandated closures. If you have questions regarding your coverage and whether or not you are covered, please contact Joel D. Rosen or one of the business attorneys here at High Swartz at 610.275.0700.

PA Commercial Property Owners: Should You Consider Appealing Your Property Tax Assessments During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

May 2020 marks the second month where lost business revenues, unpaid rent and tenant expense reimbursement could have a significant impact on landlords and owners of commercial and residential income producing properties. What can be done?

With the near universal loss of business revenue during the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is being affected. Lawmakers have enacted The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) preventing evictions, mortgage foreclosures, and related legal remedies typically invoked for the failure to meet real estate based contractual obligations. News outlets report numerous instances where tenants or tenant advocacy groups are pursuing lease concessions, rent reductions, lease modifications, and other similar approaches to addressing tenant concerns during the coronavirus displacements.

Where PA property renters are being aided by legislation preventing evictions and foreclosures, the Covid situation can significantly hinder landlords and property owners ability to collect rents and reimbursements. Income producing properties, such as retail shopping malls and centers, office buildings, apartment complexes, hotels, restaurants, and similar other properties which derive revenue from the use of real estate, have been particularly impacted. While the resultant impacts to real estate derived revenues are hopefully temporary, they all create the potential for very significant near term impacts to real estate owners and managers in the form of disrupted operations, lost revenues and the reduction in real estate values.

The loss of tenant revenues impacts the ability of ownership to pay their own real estate related expenses. Real estate taxes are typically a significant expense line item for income producing properties, typically exceeding ten or more percent of gross rental revenues. Where rent and related revenues are significantly impacted, owners, landlords and managers should consider strategies to reduce real estate tax expenses in the effort to weather the COVID 19 storm.

Commercial property owners should consider a 2021 property tax appeal to reduce property expenses.

Real estate tax assessments in Pennsylvania are directly based on property values. County assessment offices will be re-certifying real estate tax assessments for tax year 2021 over the next few months. Property owners who believe their property may be impacted by the Covid crisis such that the current assessment overstates the actual fair market value of the property should consider filing an appeal for 2021.as part of the2021 re-certification process. Most Pennsylvania counties have appeal deadlines for 2021 of between late July and September 1. If you do not file a 2021 appeal by the upcoming deadline, your right to challenge the assessment for 2021 is permanently lost. For important dates regarding appeals in Delaware County PA, see Real Estate Attorney, Stephen Zaffuto’s breakdown.

In conclusion, if you are the owner, landlord, or property manager of a retail, hotel, office, apartment, or similar income producing property, and you have experienced or expect to experience a significant loss in rental and related revenues generated at or by your property as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, you should consider filing a real estate assessment appeal for Tax Year 2021.

If you would like to discuss whether your property is a candidate for a real estate assessment appeal as a result of the coronavirus situation, please contact William F. Kerr, Jr. at wkerr@highswartz.com or Stephen M. Zaffuto at szaffuto@highswartz.com. High Swartz’s Real Estate attorneys have significant experience assuring that our client’s properties are properly assessed and taxed in dozens of Pennsylvania counties, including Philadelphia.

PA Support Modifications in the Time of COVID-19

In light of the pandemic and its impact on employment and income, it is possible you are paying too much or receiving too little under your current child, spousal, or APL support order?

Do you currently have a support order (child/spousal/APL) in place? Has your income been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? Are you concerned, as the payor, that your ability to pay the current support amount is jeopardized by the ramifications of the global pandemic?

Or are you concerned, as the recipient, that your current support order is based higher earnings than you presently receive? The family law attorneys at High Swartz are here to help and offer insight regarding the rights and responsibilities surrounding support orders during these uncertain times.

Reduction/Loss of Income does not automatically change your support obligation.

Loss of employment/reduction in income must be reported to Domestic Relations by the filing of a Petition to Modify Support. If you are the payor, it doesn’t matter that you have stopped receiving a paycheck (and there are no wages to attach), an ongoing support order will continue to charge, meaning your arrears balance will accrue. If you are the recipient of support, Domestic Relations will have no way of knowing whether your wages have been reduced, warranting an increase in your support, unless you file a Petition to Modify. If the global pandemic has impacted your income/earnings, you should file a Petition to Modify in your support matter as soon as possible.

Don’t wait until courts re-open to file a Petition to Modify.

The Pennsylvania Child Support program is accepting online filings during the ongoing global pandemic. Filings are accepted from pro se parties as well as attorneys. The Pennsylvania Child Support program can be accessed at the following website: https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/CSWS/

To file a Petition to Modify:

  • Click the above link and select the link to “Begin/Resume a Request for Support Services.”
  • You will be re-directed to the website where you can submit your request for modification of an existing support order. If you have not used the website in the past, you will need to register an account in order to complete this process.
  • After completing the registration process, to complete an online Petition to Modify you will need to provide the information requested on the online form.
  • Prior to initiating this process, we suggest you have certain information handy; for example,your PACSES Case Number, information about your current support matter, and your updated income information.

Unless and until you file a Petition to Modify, Domestic Relations will have no information regarding your loss of income and your current support order will remain unchanged. The date of filing the Petition to Modify is a critical date because your new support order will be retroactive back to the filing date. This retroactivity will impact the arrears on your case whether you are the payor or the recipient.

To ensure your modification action is filed and pursued properly, you may consider the following legal services:

a. Seek the help of an attorney to file your Petition to Modify and attend the subsequent support conference pro se (“pro se” means on your own behalf, without an attorney)

b. File the Petition to Modify pro se (on your own) and have your attorney attend the subsequent support conference with you

c. Seek the help of an attorney to file your Petition to Modify and attend the subsequent support conference with you or on your behalf

The Family Law attorneys at High Swartz are happy to assist you in filing a modification for support, bearing in mind financial restraints. Please call 610-275-0700. We are available by phone and video conferencing for your peace of mind.

Delco: You Could Save Money by Appealing Your Property Assessment

If you own property in Delaware County PA, you may be able to challenge the County’s new property assessments. This could mean saving big on taxes in the future.

Delaware County is currently in the process of finalizing its 2021 county-wide property reassessment process. Property assessment values will change in 2021 for over 200,000 parcels of real property throughout the county. If you own commercial, industrial, or residential property in Delaware County, this presents a unique opportunity to review and potentially challenge your new assessment. If successful, this could save you money on your tax bills many years into the future.

Why is Delaware County reassessing property values?

A 2017 court order issued by Judge Burr of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas determined that the county’s current assessment structure is in violation of the state constitution. Judge Burr therefore ordered that a countywide reassessment be completed. The County awarded the contract for the reassessment project to Tyler Technologies, which has been capturing street-level images and collecting, reviewing and analyzing other property data over the past few years in order to determine each property’s assessment value for 2021.

Preliminary Assessment Values

Preliminary assessment values were mailed to all taxpayers earlier in 2020. A scheduled informal review period was instituted, which resulted in many meetings or phone calls with Tyler representatives to discuss the initial assessment values. While informal review proceedings are still being held by telephone, the deadline to schedule an informal review for property owners who had not previously done so has passed.

Have these assessments been finalized?

Do not worry if you missed out onthe informal review. The final 2021 assessment values will be determined, and it is anticipated that notices of those final values will be mailed out in accordance with the schedule below. Every property owner will then have the opportunity to file a formal appeal of their assessment before the new assessments are certified and tax bills are sent out in early 2021.

Important Dates to Remember

  • June 2020: Tyler Technologies will submit their property values to Delaware County
  • July 1, 2020: Delaware County will issue notices to all property owners with the new assessment
  • August 10, 2020*: The deadline to file formal property assessment appeal is 40 days from the date on which the notice is sent out, which would currently be August 10.
  • July – October 2020: Formal appeals will be heard by Auxiliary Tax Assessment Appeals Boards
  • November 2020 – 2021 Assessments will be certified by County
  • Early Feb 2021: County and Municipal tax bills mailed to owners
  • Early July 2021: School District tax bills mailed to owners

*On May 11, 2020, Senate Bill 1145 was introduced to extend the appeal deadline to September 1, 2020. At the time of publication, the legislation remains in committee – please check the Delaware County Board of Assessment website and/or the date printed on your notice for more updated information.

How to Determine Whether to Appeal Your Property Assessment

When you receive the Notice from the Delaware County Board of Assessment indicating your property’s new assessed value for 2021, keep it simple. The one question you need to ask yourself is “what price could I get for my property if I listed and sold it?” If the new assessment is close to or less than that amount, then you should not appeal. If it is 15% or more above that amount, then you may want to consider filing an appeal.

Residential Property Owners

If you don’t have any idea of your residential property’s fair market value, you can get a rough idea by reviewing recent (six months or less) sale prices for comparable homes (“comps”) on available real estate portals, or talking to real estate professionals with knowledge of the local market. For many, it may be worth paying to get a professional appraisal. A recent appraisal is extremely valuable evidence to present at your appeal hearing.

Commercial or Industrial Property Owners

For commercial or industrial property, the analysis of a property’s fair market value is often much more complex. Property taxes are often among the largest line items for any commercial owner, and reassessments often result in overassessment of income-generating properties. For example, the 2018 countywide reassessment in Lancaster County was determined to have resulted in significant overassessment of a number of large commercial properties. Subsequent appeals succeeded in lowering their assessments by 15% to over 50%, representing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax savings per year.

If you believe your new property assessment is too high, contact the real estate attorneys at High Swartz for a consultation. We have a wealth of experience in assessment appeals involving every category of property and have been successful in obtaining significant tax savings for clients in Delaware County and throughout Pennsylvania. Our knowledge of the law and familiarity with Delaware County’s assessment appeal process help us to maximize our clients’ tax savings for years into the future. Contact Bill Kerr or Stephen Zaffuto or call us at (610) 275-0700 for more information.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, dates are subject to change at any time. Visit http://delcorealestate.co.delaware.pa.us/delcoreassessment for up-to-date-information.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the initial assessment process by Tyler Technologies had been closed early due to the COVID-19 outbreak and shutdowns. The article has been updated to reflect that scheduled informal review meetings were not canceled but have instead been conducted via telephone.