The Battle Over Short-Term Rentals in Pennsylvania Continues

Short-term rentals (STRs) have been a contentious issue in many Pennsylvania municipalities in recent years, particularly in popular tourist destinations like the Poconos Mountains. Many property owners are looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo to supplement their income or to offset their mortgage payments. However, these STRs are often seen as a nuisance by neighbors and local officials, who argue that they can lead to noise complaints, parking issues, and other problems.

To address these concerns, many municipalities in Southeastern Pennsylvania have begun regulating and permitting STRs. For example, Philadelphia requires all STRs to be licensed and imposes a hotel tax on them. Other municipalities, like Chester County, have imposed zoning restrictions on STRs, limiting them to certain areas and requiring that they meet certain safety and building codes. Various property owners in the Poconos will find that they need to acquire a permit for their county and then also their HOA. The Poconos have also found rental properties being scooped up by investment opportunists, who intend to use the property for rental purposes. This can cause unease with full-time residents and vacation property owners alike.

For renters, it's important to consider any homeowner association (HOA) rules or covenants that may apply to your property. Some HOAs may prohibit STRs altogether, while others may allow them with certain restrictions or requirements. If you own a rental property, it is important to review the terms of your lease agreement to ensure that you are not violating any terms related to STRs.

While Pennsylvania state law generally allows property owners to rent out their homes, there may be local regulations that restrict or prohibit STRs in certain areas or under certain circumstances. One of the most important regulations to consider is zoning. Municipalities may have different zoning classifications for different areas, such as residential, commercial, or industrial. Depending on the zoning classification, STRs may be permitted, prohibited, or subject to certain restrictions or requirements. For example, a municipality may allow STRs in residential areas, but only if the property owner obtains a permit and meets certain safety and building code requirements

Townships have found that STRs aren't all bad news. Many municipalities have benefitted from the increase in revenue from taxes and fees related to STRs. The revenue derived from STRs in the Pocono Mountains increased by over 275 percent between June 2020 and June 2021, rising from $10,881,000 to $40,833,000. This was the largest percent change in all of PA's 11 regions. With increased renters come increased need to entertain and feed vacationers. Brick and Mortar resorts, restaurants, and stores have all benefited from the increased traffic.

Here are a few examples of municipalities in Eastern Pennsylvania using the fu nds generated by STRs to benefit their communities:

Pocono Township: In Pocono Township, STRs have become a significant source of revenue for the local government. According to the Pocono Record, the township generated over $1.1 million in revenue from STRs in 2019 alone, which was used to fund road improvements, police services, and other community projects.

Bethlehem: In Bethlehem, STRs have been credited with helping to revitalize the city's downtown area. According to the Morning Call, the city has seen a significant increase in tourism and economic growth since it began promoting STRs, with many visitors opting to stay in local homes and apartments rather than traditional hotels.

Bucks County: In Bucks County, STRs have become an important part of the local tourism industry. According to Visit Bucks County, many visitors choose to stay in local homes and apartments when visiting the area, which has helped to drive tourism spending and promote local businesses.

Lancaster: In Lancaster, STRs have been used to address the city's affordable housing crisis. According to Lancaster Online, the city has implemented a program that allows property owners to convert their homes into STRs for up to three years, after which they must either convert the property back to a permanent residence or sell it. The program has been credited with helping to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city. Momentum is building that 2023 will be a strong year for tourism there.

What can PA municipalities do to mitigate tensions between STR owners and residents?

To keep STR owners and renters happy while also maximizing revenue coming into the municipality, there are a few strategies that municipalities can employ.

Streamline the permitting process

This essentially would make it easier for property owners to comply with regulations and obtain the necessary permits. This can reduce the administrative burden on both the property owner and the municipality, while also ensuring that STRs are safe and meet local building codes.

Promote STRs as a viable and attractive option

This can include partnering with local tourism organizations to promote the area's unique attractions and amenities, and highlighting the benefits of staying in a local STR over a hotel or other traditional accommodation.

Enforce the Rules

Certain municipalities have worked to strike a balance between the needs of STR owners and the concerns of local residents. This can include enforcing noise ordinances and other regulations, while also ensuring that STR owners are aware of their responsibilities and obligations as property owners in the community.

In summary, short-term rentals can bring a variety of benefits to Eastern Pennsylvania municipalities, including increased tax revenue, economic growth, and tourism promotion. By embracing STRs and working to promote them as a viable and attractive option for visitors, townships can continue to benefit from the growing popularity of home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo.

If you have questions regarding short term rentals in your township, contact the municipal law group at High Swartz LLP for more information at (610) 275-0700.

Who's Responsible for That Street Tree?

In Pennsylvania, there are different laws governing boundary, private property, and street trees that landowners and municipal authorities need to be aware of.

Back in the day, municipalities added street trees along roads for one important reason. It was felt that horses needed a place to get out of the sun and cool off. Presently, trees have been shown to have many more positive effects to modern day living.

Trees are an essential part of any municipality, providing a range of ecological, economic, and social benefits, such as improving air quality, reducing stormwater runoff, lowering energy costs, and enhancing property values. However, with these benefits comes the responsibility to properly maintain and manage trees in public spaces, including those in residential communities.

Don't see your answer here? Visit our in-depth guide on Pennsylvania Tree laws.

Street Tree Laws

Shade tree commissions were created to maintain street trees within the public right of way, with the cost of maintenance falling on the municipality. While the abutting property owner may be compelled to remove or maintain trees, the liability for hazardous trees remains with the municipality. Municipal authorities also have a responsibility to ensure that trees are not hazardous in the first place. If a branch from a municipal tree falls and causes damage or injury, the municipality can be held liable if they knew or had reason to know that there was a dangerous situation created by that tree.

The responsibility for removing hazard trees falls on the municipality, not the property owner. Property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk, especially if the municipal street tree causes disruption, such as broken or lifting pavement. It is considered best practice for municipalities to maintain an inventory of sick trees to inform their decisions. In Pennsylvania, the role of shade tree commissions in virtually every municipality is to maintain street trees, except in home rule communities like Philadelphia, where an ordinance compels the abutting property owner to maintain the trees.

Boundary Tree Laws

Boundary trees, also known as trees along property lines, have a separate set of laws governing their maintenance. The general rule is that both property owners share ownership of the tree, and neither one can unilaterally cut down the tree without the other's permission. Both owners also share responsibility for the care and maintenance of the tree.

However, if the tree is entirely on one side of the property line, then that owner is solely responsible for the tree. They can cut down the tree or trim its branches without the permission of their neighbor, but they are also solely responsible for any damage that the tree causes to their neighbor's property. In the 1990s, the Commonwealth court ruled that overhanging branches and roots are considered a trespass, and the neighbor whose property is being trespassed upon can sue the owner of the tree for the cost of removing the branches or roots. This also applies to cases where the property owner's tree roots are causing damage to a neighbor's property.

Private Property Tree Laws

There are no laws in Pennsylvania requiring private property owners to maintain trees on their land. However, some municipalities have ordinances that regulate tree removal or trimming on private property. For instance, in Philadelphia, you must obtain a permit before removing any tree with a trunk diameter of 12 inches or greater. Failure to comply with these ordinances can result in fines and legal action.

If a tree on private property poses a danger to the public, the local government can require the landowner to remove or maintain the tree. It's crucial to understand the laws and regulations governing trees in your area to avoid legal trouble and ensure that your trees are cared for properly.

Talk with an experienced attorney today

Trees are essential for the development and beautification of a municipality. Municipal authorities and property owners have a shared responsibility to maintain and manage street trees and those in public spaces and residential communities. It's crucial to understand the laws and regulations governing street, boundary, and private property trees in Pennsylvania.

If you're unsure about your rights and responsibilities regarding trees on your property or your neighbor's, it's best to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who specializes in municipal tree law. By doing so, you can avoid legal trouble and ensure that your trees are cared for properly.

Attorney David J. Brooman Comments on Governor's Recent Criminal Referral To ABC27 Harrisburg

You can watch David's commentary starting at 2:22.

Environmental, Land Use, and Municipal attorney David J. Brooman recently commented on the governor's criminal referral of Norfolk Southern. David also touched on the the train derailment's environmental implications during his interview with Sarah Willson of ABC27 News Harrisburg.

About the Train Derailment: On February 3, 2023, about 50 Norfolk Southern freight cars derailed near East Palestine, a town of roughly 4,800. While no one was injured in the wreck — which happened because of a mechanical issue with a rail car axle — the surrounding area had to be evacuated due to fears of a potential explosion from the hazardous chemicals on board the train. Beaver County PA was among the areas evacuated.

Below are recent developments on the incident:

  • PA governor Josh Shapiro accused Norfolk Southern of mismanaging the train derailment disaster from the outset, citing the company’s failure to immediately notify the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
  • On Tuesday February 21, at a joint press conference with Ohio governor Mike Dewine and joined by U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Shapiro urged Acting Attorney General Michelle Henry to take up a criminal referral.
  • Said Shapiro, "We made a criminal referral to the office of attorney general. They'll determine whether or not there was criminal activity. What I know is that Norfolk Southern is governed every day, not by caring about the communities that they send their trains through, but by corporate greed."
  • No timetable from the state on if and when they may file criminal actions against Norfolk Southern.
  • The EPA announced it would take control of the cleanup and use its authority under the federal Superfund law to order Norfolk to take all available measures to clean up contaminated air and water. The EPA can fine the railway company up to $70,000 a day if the work is not completed. The agency can also do the work itself if necessary and bill Norfolk Southern triple its costs.
  • Shapiro’s administration is also working to ensure fire departments in western Pennsylvania are reimbursed by Norfolk Southern for the costs of replacing all equipment contaminated during the response to the East Palestine train derailment.
  • Residents can also pursue their own civil lawsuits against the railroad – at least ten lawsuits have already been filed, including class action lawsuits that allege the train was back-loaded with too much weight, that the accident was not reported promptly and the railroad did not share information about the chemicals. Some of the lawsuits also ask the court to allow anyone who lives or works within 30 miles of East Palestine to join the class.
  • Shapiro said tests of municipal water supplies and wells haven't shown any "concerning readings" of toxins and will continue to test "for months and months and months, if not years" to ensure that water is safe for residents.

High Swartz Municipal Lawyers Group Profile - Suburban Life Magazine

The attorneys of High Swartz LLP’s Municipal Law Group continue the over 100-year-old legacy of resolving complex legal matters for local municipalities and their citizens.

By Bill Donahue | As seen in Suburban Life Magazine

Located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, High Swartz LLP has earned a distinguished reputation that traces back to its inception in 1914. The full-service law firm offers adept legal counsel in just about every legal facet—from appellate work through zoning law. However, it's the firm's municipal law practice that has proved to be foundational to its southeastern Pennsylvania presence.

Essentially, municipal law involves the practice of providing legal guidance to municipalities to facilitate the efficient and effective operation of local government. You'll find attorneys at High Swartz LLP involved in every level of local government – as zoning hearing board solicitors, general municipal solicitors, special counsel, labor counsel, and conflict counsel.

High Swartz’s Municipal Law Group includes nine full-time attorneys, practicing from their law offices in Norristown and Doylestown. The group has the honor of being ranked nationally by US News and World Report as a Tier 1 law firm for Land Use & Zoning Law, a big part of municipal work. Although their offices are based in Montgomery County and Bucks County respectively, the attorneys work with townships and boroughs throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, and that footprint is expanding.

municipal attorneys stand at high swartz llp norristown office entrance
Sidewalk from left: Gilbert High and David Brooman. Steps from left: Rich Sokorai and Tom Panzer

Partner Gilbert P. High Jr. is a municipal law and estates attorney whose grandfather, Samuel H. High, helped found the firm. What High likes most about municipal work is the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of fellow community members.

“A municipality is basically a corporation with thousands of shareholders, and you have to deal with and be responsive to their issues,” High says. “Municipal law is about being ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’ I have a great deal of faith in local government, and I want the residents of local municipalities to sense that.”

“Developing relationships is the heart of this work,” says David J. Brooman, a partner and the head of High Swartz's municipal practice. “People love to tell their story, whether it’s about their business or their township, and having a sincere interest in listening to those stories helps you gain trust. If you love what you do, spend enough time doing it, and get to know your clients really well, people will rely on you. That’s a responsibility we all take very seriously.”

Brooman appreciates the “intellectual challenge” that comes from practicing in areas such zoning and land-use development and environmental law and litigation. He says the work requires him to be “a skilled generalist—someone who knows a little about everything.” Whether a case involves a municipality or a private entity, Brooman immerses himself in the interests of his clients.

“From the beginning when I started practicing law, I've wanted to delve into each client’s business– really get to know the senior management if I was going to help them solve problems,” he says. “I want to know what’s important to them and what their strategic plan is for the next six to 10 years. Clients come to view me as a business advisor—and that goes for townships, too. Before you know it, they’re asking you questions that have nothing to do with the law."

Attorney Thomas E. Panzer joined High Swartz LLP in 2015 when his firm, McNamara Bolla & Panzer, merged with High Swartz. Today, as a partner tasked with leading High Swartz’s Doylestown office, Panzer maintains a busy practice as a municipal, zoning, and workers’ compensation attorney. He attributes the strength of the firm’s municipal practice to three essential attributes.

“First is our core competence and being able to offer substantively sound advice,” he says. “Second is our demeanor and approach, remembering that we are advisors, not policy makers. Third is the ability to be present and respond to the needs of the people we represent. If we deliver on these attributes, we will continue to grow our reputation as a strong regional full-service law firm.”

Each of the attorneys in the firm’s municipal law group have their own niche. High, for example, has become known as one of the Pennsylvania's premier experts on tree law. Although tree-lined streets add to a community’s desirability, most Pennsylvania municipalities struggle to maintain so-called “street trees” because of the associated cost.

“Lower Merion Township has something like 18,000 trees that line its streets,” High says. “Whose responsibility is it to maintain those trees? You have to sort out, ‘OK, what is the law in terms of a limb from a street tree falling on a car or the whole tree coming down?’ That has spread out into, ‘OK, what is the law in terms of one neighbor dealing with a problem tree on another neighbor’s property?’ There are so many issues that come up.”

Brooman has a keen interest in preservation. He cites a project known as the Mattison Estate in Ambler. Once the personal estate of the late asbestos magnate Richard V. Mattison, M.D., the property fell into disrepair in the years after Mattison’s death in 1936. In recent years, Brooman worked closely with Upper Dublin Township to preserve and protect the property’s significant historic assets, including iconic Lindenwold Castle. At the same time, he facilitated opportunities for thoughtful residential development as a way to breathe new life into the area.

“The Mattison Estate is an example of what I like best about this kind of work,” Brooman says. “It allows for a great deal of creativity in solving problems, and it brings developers, townships, and community groups together to engineer a solution that everyone can support. It’s not always easy, but if you work hard enough, you can come to a consensus.”

High Swartz municipal lawyers' work doesn't end when they leave the office. All members are active in volunteer and civic organizations including Habitat for Humanity and The Support Center for Child Advocates. You'll find them in public official positions as well. Panzer, for example, served a four-year term as Bucks County treasurer; completed two terms as a supervisor in his hometown of Warminster; and served a five-year term as a member of the Warminster Municipal Authority Board of Directors.

The municipal lawyers photoshoot took place in the library of High Swartz LLP's Norristown office.

“We have built a strong, stable, and respected presence in Bucks County,” Panzer adds. “I have seen a lot of law firms come and go, and I’m honored to have joined a firm with a 100–year history in and around the Philadelphia region. We can thank attorneys like Gil High, David Brooman, and the firm’s managing partner, Joel Rosen, for that.”

As High reflects on his storied career with the firm, he cannot help but look to the future. He forecasts continued growth in the firm’s municipal practice, among other practice areas, and expects to see the firm’s team of attorneys grow along with it. Just as it has done in the past, the firm will grow by attracting talented young attorneys who “appreciate the gratification that can be afforded to them by working in an established regional firm.”

“I have been affiliated with this firm for almost 65 years,” High adds. “In that period of time, the firm has maintained an ethical integrity and respect for clients, for other lawyers, for the court system, and for one another. That’s what I’m most proud of—the standard of ethical integrity I think the judicial system calls on lawyers to maintain—and that’s true for every practice area at the firm, not just our municipal practice.”

This article was originally published here.

High Swartz LLP has been named a Tier 1 National Law firm for Land Use & Zoning Law by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® "Best Law Firms" in 2023

High Swartz LLP is pleased to announce it has received another "Best Law Firm" nod and has also been named a Tier 1 Philadelphia Area “Best Law Firm” in six practice areas.

Of note is the rise of the firm's Real Estate Litigation ranking from National Tier 3 in 2022 to National Tier 2 in 2023. Real Estate Litigation also rose from a Metropolitan Philadelphia Tier 2 to Tier 1. To achieve a "Best Law Firm" ranking, a firm must have at least one lawyer included on The Best Lawyers in America© list. For 2023, 16 High Swartz attorneys were listed in the 2023 editions of The Best Lawyers in America® and the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America.

The "Best Law Firms" rankings are based on a combination of client feedback, information provided on the Law Firm Survey, the Law Firm Leaders Survey, and Best Lawyers peer review.

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. More than 116,000 industry leading lawyers are eligible to vote (from around the world), and we have received more than 17 million evaluations on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world.

For the 2023 edition of The Best Lawyers in America®, more than 12.2 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in more than 71,000 leading lawyers honored in the new edition.

"Law Firm of the Year" awards recognize a single top firm for its work in a specific legal practice area nationwide. Awards are determined based on a handful of factors including lawyer feedback, the number of lawyers included in Best Lawyers® for that firm and practice area, the number of office locations a firm has, historical analysis of the firm’s "Lawyer of the Year" awards, materials submitted by firms and the firm’s overall scope and areas of expertise.

When you're looking for attorneys near you in the Greater Philadelphia, Bucks County, and Montgomery County areas, get in touch with our law office. National and local resources consistently cite our law firm and its lawyers and attorneys. Talk to best -- High Swartz.

Michael A. Luongo Joins our Doylestown Law Office

High Swartz LLP is pleased to announce the addition of Michael A. Luongo, Esq. to the firm's Doylestown Law office. He will add his diverse skillset to the firm's business litigation, personal injury, criminal defense, and municipal practices. Michael joins High Swartz after practicing for 4 and a half years in the litigation department at a prominent law firm in Blue Bell, PA.

"I'm excited to be part of the litigation team at High Swartz. Their reputation in the Bucks and Montgomery region is well-respected and I look forward to contributing right away," states Michael.

Prior to his time there as a business litigator and criminal defense attorney, Michael served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Luongo litigated multiple high-profile criminal cases, including hundreds of bench trials and jury trials. He was the designated vertical prosecutor handling all press cases, non-fatal shootings and gunpoint robberies. He also conducted hearings for motions to suppress, bail, quash, discovery, reconsider, and consolidate prior bad acts. It was Michael's trial and prosecution acumen that garnered his promotion to Northeast Philadelphia's top prosecutor position.

Michael utilizes his strong business background in his work as a small and medium-sized business litigator in the Philadelphia region. He plans to also assist the firm's municipal group, consisting of attorneys who counsel multiple first and second class townships in the region as solicitors.

"What really stood out to me was the opportunity to work with High Swartz's municipal team. I look forward to gleaning from the many years of Southeastern Pennsylvania representation experience the group possesses," Mr. Luongo said.

While in law school at Rutgers of Camden, Michael served Philadelphia County's Court of Common Pleas judge the Honorable Rose Mare Defino-Nastasi as a summer law clerk. He earned a Master's of Business Administration from LaSalle University and also a Bachelor's of Science from Lehigh University. Michael also studied International Business during his time at Villanova University's Post Grad Program and worked at a marketing firm during his law school days.

Pennsylvania Tree Laws

Below is a primer on the municipal laws regarding trees along property lines and public rights of way in Pennsylvania Municipalities.

Pennsylvanians need to understand their rights and liabilities concerning hazard trees and property line laws. With the rapid infestation of invasive tree pests like the Spotted Lanternfly and Emerald Ash Borer in Pennsylvania, many residents are being forced to ask about dead tree removal laws along property lines and public right-of-ways.

If your Neighbor’s tree along your property line is a hazard

If the hazard tree is along your property line, but is considered to be the neighbor’s tree, notify them immediately and request they remove it. If they refuse to do so, you can hire an arborist to remove the portion of the tree that overhangs your property. You can then require your neighbor to reimburse you for the cost. If all or any portion of a hazard tree falls on your property, and your neighbor was aware of or should have known that it was dangerous, your neighbor is responsible for any damage that you suffered, including your cost of removal.

If your Neighbor’s tree along your property line is not shown to be a hazard

If your neighbor’s tree falls onto your property and is not shown to have been a hazard, the neighbor will not be deemed negligent. Not only must you clean up your neighbor’s healthy but fallen tree, but you have to give your neighbor the opportunity to claim their wood! If your neighbor’s property line tree falls onto your property, call an arborist to inspect the tree and advise if it was defective and if the neighbor should have been aware of its condition.

Can I cut overhanging branches from my neighbor's tree?
Can my neighbor cut overhanging branches from my tree?

The owner of a tree can cut it down or trim its branches without the permission of their neighbor at anytime, but they are also solely responsible for any damage that the tree causes to their neighbor's property. This even applies to cases where the property owner's tree roots are causing damage to a neighbor's property.

In the 1990s, the Commonwealth court ruled that overhanging branches AND the roots are considered a trespass, and the neighbor whose property is being trespassed upon can remove the overhanging branches or roots. They can then sue the owner of the tree for the cost of removing the branches or roots. 

If the dead or dying tree is directly on the property line

In this case, you jointly own the tree with your neighbor and you are empowered to both share the cost of the tree’s removal.

If the dead or dying tree is within a public right of way

Even if your town has maintained a tree over the years, don’t expect the municipality to pay for its removal. Although PA municipalities control the use of streets, including trees growing within the street’s limits, the municipality has the right to impose the cost of tree removal on abutting property owners. If your local municipality chooses not to bill you, that is their option. Even if they have done so in the past, don’t expect municipalities to continue to front the bill. In the face of the extraordinary cost of removal and the scope of current and future tree blight numbers, deferment is probable.

emerald ash borer destruction of pennsylvania tree
Emerald Ash Borer larvae cause destruction under the bark of Pennsylvania Ash Trees.

To remove any public right of way tree, you’ll need permission from the municipality

It’s essential to remember that local government controls trees in the public right of way and is responsible if they fail to remove a hazard tree after notice. The property owner should notify the municipality of the hazard tree and ask that it be removed. Keep a copy of that notice for future records.

Schedule to have the hazardous tree taken down immediately

Homeowners experiencing dead or dying trees proximate to buildings, driveways, patios, sidewalks, and streets do not have the luxury of removing that tree at a future date. A dead tree can quickly become brittle and fall from its own weight in as little as 18 months from the point of infection. Ash trees affected by the Emerald Ash Borer will die from the top down. If you suddenly find that your ash tree is largely dead, the probability is that it has been dying for a long time when you didn’t notice. And if the tree is largely dead, you will likely not find an arborist willing to climb the tree to take it down. They will want to do the work safely with the use of a crane, which could significantly increase the cost of the tree’s removal.

Educate yourself regarding trees on your property, their health and hazards

Whether you are aware of it or not, a significant portion of Pennsylvania trees are currently under attack. The Emerald Ash Borer is a pest from Asia that has taken control of Ash trees in 35 states. It is killing them at such a remarkable rate that virtually none of the 8.7 billion ash trees in North America are expected to survive in the next five years. Cutting down infected trees in ineffective because the borers have a flying range of up to 20 miles. While the ecological threat to our nation’s forests is momentous, the financial impact on property owners residing within urban communities is potentially enormous. Ash trees can be gigantic, and the cost to remove them likewise.

spotted lanternfly on trees in pa
Spotted Lanternflies are easy to spot, no pun intended. Along with their spots and bright red accents, SLFs are planthoppers, which means they fly for short distances, which can look like hopping.

The Spotted Lanternfly is also causing many Pa residents to be concerned about hardwood and property line fruit trees. The SLF is an invasive insect discovered in Berks County of Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and originates from Southeast Asia. Spotted lanternflies are not as selective as EABs regarding the trees they attack. Their preferred host is the “Tree of Heaven” or ailanthus but they are also reported to attack apple, Plum, cherry, peach, apricot, pine trees, even grape vines and hops. The economic impact could be enormous on the regions fruit, beer and wine industries. And because the Spotted Lanternfly lays its eggs on any surface including cars and trailers, a rapid outbreak is expected.

Be Preemptive regarding listed host trees

The Penn State Extension has an updated list of reported species and plants these pests prefer. It may be in your best interest to remove any listed trees, especially ash trees or trees of heaven, along any property line or area that could be seen as dangerous.


Don't see your answer here? Read Who's Responsible for That Tree?


Find a municipal lawyer near you with Pennsylvania Tree Laws experience

High Swartz municipal attorneys are here to answer your questions regarding trees on property lines, the laws governing them and public right of ways. Contact us here or call 610.275.0700. More information on Tree Law in Pennsylvania can be found at WeConservePA.

17 High Swartz Attorneys Named Main Line Today Top Lawyers for 2021

We are pleased to announce that 17 attorneys have been included in the 2021 Main Line Today Top Lawyers Around the Main Line and Western Suburbs List.

Main Line Today is a Southeastern Pennsylvania regional magazine focusing on the communities of the western suburbs of Philadelphia and surrounding Counties. The Best Lawyers of Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County are nominated through peer balloting then vetted through Main Line Today's editorial process.

2021 sees the addition of 3 High Swartz attorneys to the Top Lawyers list. New attorneys include family lawyers Chelsey A. Christiansen and Michael B. Prasad for Divorce and Family Law and Stephen M. Zaffuto for Real Estate Law. Congratulations to all winners!

Below is the full list of High Swartz Top Lawyers from Main Line Today in 2021.

  • Joel D. Rosen - Business Law
  • Kevin Cornish - Civil Litigation
  • Mark Fischer - Civil Litigation
  • Melissa Boyd - Divorce & Family
  • Mary Doherty - Divorce & Family
  • Elizabeth Early - Divorce & Family
  • Chelsey Christiansen - Divorce & Family
  • Michael Prasad - Divorce & Family
  • Thomas Rees - Employment Law
  • James B. Shrimp - Employment Law
  • David Brooman - Municipal Law
  • Gilbert High - Municipal Law
  • William Kerr - Municipal Law
  • Richard Sokorai - Personal Injury
  • Arn Heller - Real Estate Law
  • Stephen Zaffuto - Real Estate Law
  • Thomas Panzer - Workers’ Compensation

If you're looking for lawyers near you in Norristown, Doylestown, and the Greater Philadelphia area, get in touch with our law office. Our attorneys and lawyers are some of the best you'll find to handle all your legal concerns.

The Emerald Ash Borer Killed a Tree on My Property Line. Who is Responsible For Its Removal?

The Emerald Ash Borer insect has wreaked havoc throughout much of PA and is migrating to surrounding Mid-Atlantic states. Dead ash tree removal is a must for property owners, but the responsibility burden can sometimes cause friction between neighbors.

I live in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and I’m trying to resolve a dispute with a neighbor about a dead ash tree that sits directly on our property line. When I moved into my house a few months ago, I had an arborist inspect the tree, and planned to have it trimmed.

I was advised that the ash tree is infected by the emerald ash borer beetle and is nearly completely dead. The arborist advised me to remove it quickly so that it does not fall on my shed directly under it and was given a quote of $1700.The thing is, the tree sits approximately on 25% of my property and 75% of my neighbor’s.

My understanding is that in PA, if a dead or dying tree sits on the property line, both the neighborly and legally required thing to do is to split the cost of removal. However, my neighbor stated that he did not care if it came down in my yard as it would be my responsibility to remove it if that occurred. The dead tree would not hit his house if it fell on his property, and he was not willing to contribute to its removal.

I was hoping to determine with a real estate lawyer familiar with tree removal laws if I had any legal recourse against him with regards to this removal. Or,f the cost of removal is low enough that I am better off just paying for the tree removal myself rather than trying to take legal action against my neighbor At the end of the day, I'm arguing with him over $850 and the principle of the matter. – Matthew P.

I believe your understanding of the PA tree law is correct. A property line tree is the joint and equal responsibility of the two property owners. If one party refuses to accept equal responsibility, legal action would have to be started – normally before a Montgomery County magistrate judge. The cost of commencing the action is not great, but, the cost of your relationship with your neighbor could be.

You might have some success in having a real estate attorney write to the neighbor, but that could be costly as well. The additional issue is that in order to remove the tree, your arborist may requires the neighbor’s permission, since going onto his property would be a trespass.

For you to be successful, legally you have to be able to prove where the property line is and prove that the tree was a hazard tree because it was dead. You’ll need a written opinion from the arborists and good pictures.

Many arborists in PA are rightfully reluctant to climb up an ash tree in order to remove it because it dies from the top down – so the top becomes very brittle and thus dangerous to climb. You have to deal with this right away. Best of luck!

Stormwater Fees in PA - What You Need to Know

Property Owners in PA looking to challenge their stormwater fees need to understand the requirements regarding how they are structured and assessed.

If you’ve read local newspapers or attended local government meetings in Pennsylvania over the past few years, you’re aware of the controversy over stormwater fees. Disgruntled landowners may call the fees “rain taxes,” but these fees are necessary to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s unfunded mandates on state and local governments.

What is a stormwater fee?

A stormwater fee is an assessment charged to property owners within a municipality’s service area in order to finance the costs of local stormwater programs. The amount of the fee for each individual property is usually determined based on its total impervious area (all surfaces that do not allow infiltration of water, including building coverage and surfaces made of materials like concrete and asphalt).

Why are stormwater fees imposed?

The short answer is that federal and state law have mandated a decrease in the amount of pollutants in waterways. Stormwater runoff is a major source of pollutants. Major projects will be necessary to reduce stormwater flow and the funds for these projects will come from municipalities. Most municipalities view stormwater fees as a more palatable and fairer alternative than taxation. .

The federal Clean Water Act sets stormwater requirements that the states administer under federal supervision. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) administers stormwater matters under the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) Program. The MS4 program applies to municipalities (or large institutions like universities and prisons) that have separate systems for sanitary sewer and stormwater management.

As of 2018, all municipalities in the MS4 program must meet specific pollutant load reduction targets by 2023, with penalties for noncompliance. Compliance will require significant improvements in most municipalities, from regular street and drain cleanings to construction of new retention basins and storm pipe infrastructure.

Why is there a stormwater fee and not a tax?

This mandate is not funded by EPA or DEP, so the costs of compliance fall to the local municipalities. Stormwater management fees are the least burdensome way for local governments to pay for compliance. The alternative of tax increases would be unpopular and would impose costs on the population as a whole rather than target those who generate stormwater. And ignoring the requirements would be even more costly, leading to penalties that would increase over time and also would be paid by all taxpayers. Stormwater fees are also fairer than taxes, because tax-exempt entities like government and nonprofit organizations that often generate significant stormwater runoff will pay stormwater fees.

What municipalities are or will be affected by stormwater fees?

Municipalities or large institutions regulated as MS4s, especially in watersheds designated as “impaired,” will be most affected by stormwater fees. MS4s gather stormwater through storm pipes, drains, or swales and discharge stormwater into local streams and rivers without any treatment.

The DEP manages the MS4 Program, issuing permits and ensuring compliance with federal mandates under the Clean Water Act. Specifically, DEP issues NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permits, authorizing MS4s to discharge stormwater into local waterways. To comply with NPDES permits, MS4 communities must develop a Stormwater Management Program (SWMP). Communities that discharge into watersheds classified by DEP as “impaired” must also develop Pollutant Reduction Plans (PRP).

DEP also requires minimum standards for stormwater controls in local ordinances, and has drafted a model ordinance that MS4s will have to implement by September 30, 2022 to remain compliant. There are over 1059 MS4s at the time of publication. Dep provides a list of these regulated MS4s, organized by county, on the its website, along with many other useful resources.

How are stormwater fees determined?

Municipalities can choose from several options to cover the costs of stormwater compliance. Some municipalities will assess fees directly. Others will create municipal authorities or join regional municipal authorities. Since 2013, the Municipality Authorities Act has permitted municipal authorities for stormwater management planning and projects. These municipal authorities have the authority to impose fees at “reasonable and uniform rates.” (See our earlier blog on municipal authorities for more info).

There are many variations in fee structures among municipalities and municipal authorities because fee calculation is left to the individual municipality or authority. Fees will be deemed reasonable if levied on property owners based on some calculation of the property’s potential to generate runoff. Some of the largest fees will come from properties that are exempt from real estate taxation under Pennsylvania law, such as schools, large churches, and authorities that own large tracts of real estate. The budget effect for these exempt entities may be significant.

A municipality or authority can choose from various methods of measurement as a basis for stormwater fees. Possible methods include the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) based on the average impervious area of a residential parcel in the community or a tiered system with several subcategories based on impervious area. More complex calculations include “Intensity of Development Factors (IDF)” or “Equivalent Hydraulic Areas (EHA),” that account for and weight both pervious and impervious area, to scientific and highly-tailored methods like the “Residential Equivalent Factor (REF)”. There is no uniform solution for determining stormwater fees, and the proper method will depend on many factors, including the overall land use characteristics, size, resources, and feedback from constituents and stakeholders. The Overview of Municipal Stormwater Fee Programs, published by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, provides useful explanations of each method.

How do you get help if you have issues related to stormwater fees?

If you represent a municipal client that needs to comply with a current EPA mandate or a municipality wishing to establish a stormwater authority preventatively, before being mandated to do so, High Swartz can help. We provide counsel to help “thread the needle” of compliance, avoidance of large penalties, and limiting exposure to litigation from property owners.

If instead you are a property owner in a municipality that is implementing or planning for a stormwater fee, High Swartz can help ensure that the fees are based on accurate information, and levied in a “reasonable and uniform” manner, as required by law.

Our experienced municipal government team at High Swartz has in-depth knowledge and experience in all aspects of stormwater management and municipal law and can aid you in navigating this complex area of law and asserting and protecting your interests. Call us at 610-275-0700 or use the contact form found on this page.