Two couples are appealing an Armstrong County, Pa., judge’s ruling that they must pay property tax on their park model trailers.
Both found the ruling unfair and argue in filings with the Commonwealth Court that their trailers are not permanent structures and can be moved from land they lease along the Allegheny River, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Judge Kenneth Valasek ruled in November that trailers owned by Keith and Valeri Lazor and Michael and Jeanne Gelormino are subject to real estate tax, upholding a decision by the county’s board of assessment appeals.
Valasek stated in his opinions that because the Lazors and Gelorminos have added porches, steps, landscaping and outdoor lighting, the trailers are more of a house than a recreational vehicle.
“There is no doubt that this model is not intended” to be moved often, Valasek wrote.
The Lazors and Gelorminos were two of four nearby trailer owners who appealed the board of assessment’s ruling to the Court of Common Pleas, Valeri Lazor said. Valasek handled the Lazors’ and Gelorminos’ cases while Judge James Panchik was assigned the hearings of Anthony Mariani and James Davidson, who have trailers not far from the couples’ on property owned by Davidson.
“All four of us agreed we would fight this,” Valeri Lazor said. “It’s wrong. They’re (recreational vehicles).”
The trailers are generally used as weekend getaways or summer vacation homes, all in Rayburn along the Allegheny River. The four trailers are registered as vehicles, the owners paid vehicle sales tax and all are winterized.
After the hearings, Valasek found that the Lazors and Gelorminos are subject to the tax. Panchik found that Mariani and Davidson are not.
That’s where unfairness comes in, Valeri Lazor said, because all four of the trailers are the same.
“It’s the principle of the matter – not about the money,” she said. “It’s wrong that they won and we lost.”
Keith Lazor said it would take a couple hours for him to ready the trailer, “and then I’d have it gone.”
The Lazors are contemplating packing up their trailer and leaving if the Commonwealth Court doesn’t rule in their favor.
Valeri Lazor said she and her husband had their trailer at its current spot for about a year when they were informed it was being taxed.
Her brother Michael Gelormino said “I wasn’t there 24 hours” when he learned that his trailer was subject to real estate tax.
He couldn’t believe that after paying vehicle taxes on the trailer that he’d have to pay real estate taxes for property he doesn’t own, he said. Gelormino finds the tax unfair because it doesn’t apply to every park model trailer in the area.
“They’re the same kind of camper as ours,” he said. “It’d be different if I owned this property.”
The Gelorminos have to be on watch constantly because the river might rise and their trailer could be damaged, Michael Gelormino said. It would take a couple hours to get the trailer ready to be moved, he said.
“It is still susceptible to flooding down here,” he said. “I’m not in a flood-free zone.”
The trailer is covered by the Gelorminos’ vehicle insurance, he said.
“This has a license plate,” said Jeanne Gelormino.
The Lazors’ and Gelorminos’ trailers sit on blocks, the wheels are attached and there is no permanent foundation, they said. Porch roofs can be removed and utilities disconnected to move the trailer, both couples said.
“You can’t live in this thing all year-round,” Michael Gelormino said.
If the Gelorminos lose the appeal, “they’ll see how mobile this is,” he said.
In ruling that Mariani and Davidson are not subject to the tax, Panchik wrote in a December opinion that analysis must “be on a case-by-case basis.”
He found that neither trailer was permanently attached to the land and the owners have no intent to do so.
“To find to the contrary would necessarily then make taxable every mobile home unit that hooks up at an overnight park,” Panchik wrote.
The Lazors and Gelorminos said the tax goes against making the county accessible for recreational opportunities.
“We bring to this town,” Jeanne Gelormino said, by buying things at local stores during their stays.
Valeri Lazor expects their cases to be heard in mid-October when the Commonwealth Court convenes in Pittsburgh.