In the matter of City of Reading v. Ronald L. Heckman, the City of Reading (the “City”) filed a lien against a two-unit residential property for an owner’s (the “Owner”) unpaid trash collection and recycling fees due from the years 1995-2004 and 2007-2008.  Under the Third Class City Code, the City is permitted to regulate the collection, removal and disposal of trash and to impose and collect, by lien or otherwise, reasonable fees therefore.

Under the City’s Codified Ordinance, the City imposes a trash removal and recycling fee for all owners of properties with four or fewer residential units.  Property owners may opt out of the City’s trash removal program by submitting evidence to the City twice a year showing that the trash from the property is being disposed of by a private licensed trash hauler.

The Owner claimed that he was not obligated to pay the City’s trash and recycling fees because the property has been vacant or, when not vacant, serviced by a private trash company.  The Owner, however, did not attempt to opt out of the City’s trash program, and it does not appear that the Owner produced evidence to the trial court of his use of a private trash hauler at any point in time.  The Owner argued, among other reasons, that the City was not entitled to collect fees because (1) it was barred by the statute of limitations, and (2) the Owner did not use the City’s trash and recycling services.

The Commonwealth Court found that the City’s lien was not barred by the statute of limitation despite the City seeking fees due and payable more than fifteen years prior to the filing of the lien.  In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

The Commonwealth Court also held that the Owner was obligated to pay the trash and recycling fees, regardless of whether he used the City’s trash collection services or not, because he did not establish that he had properly opted out of the program.  The Owner’s use (or non-use) of the City’s trash removal services was irrelevant.  As a property owner in the City, the Owner benefitted from the City’s trash collection services in the general community-wide sense, regardless of the means he took to dispose of his trash.