Trigona v. Lender, 2007 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 316 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007)

A municipality may not compel the payment of real estate taxes or municipal obligations through the denial of licenses and permits required for real property development unless such power is conferred by statute.
Case Details:

Municipality adopted an ordinance prohibiting the issuance of licenses and permits pertaining to real property if the applicant owed real estate taxes or other debt to the municipality.  Taxpayer initiated the instant controversy when the municipality denied his permit application because he was delinquent in paying personal real estate taxes owed to the municipality.

Taxpayer sought and received a declaration from the trial court that the ordinance was invalid as it exceeded the municipality’s statutory authority. Holding that the ordinance was an unauthorized tax collection device, the trial court granted taxpayer’s summary judgment motion.

Affirming the decision below, the Commonwealth Court held that the ordinance was null and void as it created a method of tax and municipal claim collection unauthorized by state statute.  Commonwealth Court rejected the municipality’s contention that it did have the authority to adopt the ordinance pursuant to the police powers granted it by the Third Class City Code (53 P.S. §37403(60)), because the City Code permits the adoption of only those ordinances not inconsistent with state law; the ordinance in question exceeded the powers granted to the municipality by state law.  The court held that there is a long-established and exclusive statutory framework for a municipality’s collection of taxes and municipal claims, and that the municipality’s ordinance did not fall within this framework.  Further, as the ordinance’s preamble clearly and unambiguously evinced that it was intended to be a tax collection device, the Commonwealth Court rejected municipality’s argument that the trial court erred in not looking beyond the terms of the ordinance to determine its true intent.  Finally, the court also found the ordinance in excess of the municipality’s powers to collect taxes and municipal claims as it imposed a disability not just on delinquent property but on delinquent property owners themselves (and even upon persons of business affiliation with a delinquent property owner).

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