- The definition of blight now includes specific criteria and blight designations have an expiration date.
- For an area to be declared blighted, a majority of properties must meet specific criteria, but properties owned by the condemning agency may be included in this calculation.
- The loophole allowing cities to condemn under previous blight designations for seven years has now expired.
In 2006, Pennsylvania responded to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London and the widespread abuse of eminent domain throughout the state by taking a giant step toward providing its citizens with the property rights protection that they deserve. Senate Bill 881, the “Property Rights Protection Act,” which was supported by a broad group of organizations, including the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Farm Bureau and National Federation of Independent Business, was adopted with near-unanimous support in the General Assembly. It prohibits the use of eminent domain “to take private property in order to use it for private enterprise,” while also significantly tightening the definition of “blight” in the state’s eminent domain laws and placing time limits on blight designations. The bill also provides that agricultural property cannot be “blighted” unless the Agricultural and Condemnation Approval Board determines the designation is necessary to protect the health and safety of the community.
These changes were absolutely imperative for a state that—in an example of the bizarre extremes to which states had allowed their “blight” definitions to go—had previously allowed the condemnation of property for no better reason than that it was determined by a local government to be “economically or socially undesirable.” Also, the old law never allowed blight designations to expire, meaning that a property in a designated area could still be taken for private use years down the road, regardless of any improvements or other changes in circumstances.
The bill also requires that a majority of properties representing a majority of the geographical area must meet certain criteria in order for an area to be declared blighted. Unfortunately, properties owned by the condemner can be included in this calculation—a crucial flaw that allows an otherwise perfectly fine neighborhood to be declared “blighted” because the government allowed properties they owned in the neighborhood to fall into decay.
Another major drawback of the bill—and it was a significant one—was that it included exceptions that allowing certain municipalities and counties (Philadelphia, Norristown, Pittsburgh, and Delaware County, among others) to condemn for another seven years in areas that have already been designated as “blighted” under the state’s urban renewal laws. This exception has since expired. Currently, all owners and renters in the state enjoy the increased protection of Pennsylvania’s eminent domain reform.