February 24, 2020

Pennsylvania Recharacterizes Recreational Campgrounds

Robert J. Hobaugh, Jr.

Pennsylvania law now treats recreational campgrounds as hotels instead of landlord tenant relationships through legislation known as Act No. 33 of 2020 (the “Act”). The Act (a)
strengthens the position of a campground owner (“Owner”) to refuse or deny accommodations to certain persons; (b) limits the liability of Owners; (c) enhances the right to restitution and
damages due to Owners; (d) authorizes Owners to eject persons from campgrounds; (e) gives a lien on certain personal property of campers in favor of Owners and safeguards in favor of Owners camper property from liens of others; and (f) requires the Owner or operator of a campground to install adequate chimneys and other vents on heating devices. The Act is important because it provides clear rights to Owners whose properties constitute a significant
business in rural Pennsylvania and it benefits their guests whose quiet enjoyment of the campground has been often disturbed.

The need for the Act comes from the perceived constraints on Owners to enforce rules of the campground and dispose of abandoned property. According to Beverly Gruber, Executive
Director for the Pennsylvania Campground Owners’ Association (“Association”), during the last 15 years, police officers would not evict disruptive campers from a campground because the police thought the Landlord Tenant Act of 1951 (“LTA”) applied to a camper’s presence at the
campground. The LTA requires a notice to quit followed by a lapse of 15, 15 or 30 days for breach under §501(b) or a variety of advance dates for a mobile home under §501(c). Following
notice to quit, a landlord must schedule a hearing and obtain a judgement for possession. Under § 505.1 of the LTA, an Owner would have to give 10 days’ notice and store abandoned property for another 30 days on request, subject to rules that expose landlords to treble damages.

The Association asserts that long-term residency and storage of a tenant’s personal property in a leasehold is inapplicable to a campground where occupancy is short-term and the
camper has a permanent residence elsewhere. The advance notice under §501 of the LTA is unworkable, says the Association, because campers do not reside exclusively in a campground and because disorderly campers can quickly ruin the camping experience for other campers.
Further, Owners need to dispose of abandoned camper personal property faster than the LTA allows because the business model of a campground requires turnover of many short-term occupancies during a seasonal opportunity. Following this reasoning, a short-term occupancy is analogous to stays in a hotel. Accordingly, the Act amends Chapter 13 of Title 48 of the Pennsylvania Statutes relating to hotels (“Chapter13”) to recharacterize campgrounds as hotels.

The Act defines a “recreational campground” to exclude indicia of a landlord tenant relationship (each a “Campground”). A Campground is defined at 48 P.S. §1301 as follows:

[a] lodging establishment organized to accommodate five or more separate, designated campsites for shelter in either privately-owned or campground owned-owned lodging.
The property may include amenities, such as site-specific electric and sewer hookups, public bath houses, convenience stores, recreational areas and pools. The campground
may permit seasonal sites. Seasonal guests shall not be required to have month-to-month agreements. Approved guests may leave their trailer on the site throughout the year but may not maintain a permanent residence. The term shall not include a recreational vehicle or tent campsite in a state park.

State parks have state employees who enforce state regulations and so are excluded from the definition of “Campground.” Enforcement in a Campground is by police officer. Because most Campgrounds are located in Townships of the Second Class without their own police force,enforcement at Campgrounds will likely be by the Pennsylvania State Police.

How does the Act define Owners? A Campground owner is “[a] person or entity which owns a recreational campground. The terms shall not include the Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources.” 48 P.S.§1301. As with a Campground, an Owner is not an integral part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What rights does the Act give to Owners? Under 48 P.S. §1311(a)(1)-(5), an Owner may refuse or deny accommodations, facilities or privileges to a person:

(1) “unwilling or unable to pay;”
(2) “who is disorderly;”
(3) “who…the [Owner] reasonably believes is seeking accommodations for an unlawful purpose [including possession of a controlled substance or alcohol by a minor];”
(4) “who the…[Owner] reasonably believes is bringing into the lodging establishment property which may be dangerous to other persons, including explosives or illegal firearms;” or
(5) “who exceeds the maximum number of persons allowed to occupy a particular lodging accommodation…as posted by the [Campground].”

Further, an Owner who denies accommodations for any of the foregoing five reasons, shall not be liable in a civil action, except in connection with circumstances protected under the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The camper, however, may be ordered by a court to pay restitution to the Owner for damages and for loss of revenues while the Campground is being repaired. 48 P.S. §1311(c).

An Owner may require a prospective camper to prove his or her ability to pay. That proof includes payment by cash, a valid credit card or certified or cashier’s check. The Owner may
require the parent or legal guardian of a minor camper not accompanied by the parent or guardian to (1) to accept in writing liability for the lodging cost, taxes and all charges by the minor and damages beyond normal wear and tear; and (2)(a) provide a credit card to cover the foregoing; or (b) post a cash damage deposit of one night’s stay.

The Act authorizes an Owner to “immediately eject a person from [Campground] for violating [Chapter 13] if a copy of [Chapter 13] is posted in a conspicuous place and manner in
the lodging establishment … [at or near the guest registration desk].” 48 P.S. §1311(e). That conditional right should apply as against a prospective camper, a camper, a camper’s guest, or
other invitee or licensee. That condition to ejectment is also a condition to the Owner’s rights under Chapter 13. “[Chapter 13] shall not apply to … [an Owner] unless [the Owner] posts a
copy of [Chapter 13] at or near the guest registration desk.” 48 P.S. §1311(f). The Owner must post Chapter 13 to benefit from it.

Many provisions of the Act give the Owner a defense to claims for liability regarding damage or loss of tangible personal property of the camper. If the Owner posts in a conspicuous
place a notice requiring the camper to (a) secure the Campground-owned lodging (“Lodging”) occupied by the camper or the camper’s possessions, and (b) on leaving that Lodging, to secure it and deposit the key with the Owner or the clerk at the office, then the Owner “shall not be liable
for any baggage or personal property of the guest or boarder which may be stolen from the….[Lodging] if the guest or boarder shall neglect to do so.” 48 P.S. §1321. To avoid liability, the Owner must prove, however, that the guest or boarder left the Lodging unbolted or unlocked at the time of the loss of baggage.

Further, the Owner is not liable for loss or damage suffered by a guest unless the Owner “fails to constantly maintain any of the following: …[s]uitable locks, bolts and fastenings on the
doors, transoms and windows of the sleeping rooms used by guests…” 48 P.S. §1323. An ambiguity in drafting the Act raises the question whether the Owner must post a copy of 48 P.S.
§1323 printed in distinct type in not fewer than 10 conspicuous places. The ambiguity exists because the conditional exculpation from liability is stated as to the Owner but the posting is “at the hotel or inn,” without reference to the Campground.

Despite the protections of §1323 above, the Owner can be liable for the value of a camper’s property held by the Owner under a written agreement in a safe or vault if the loss or
damage is caused by theft or negligence of the Owner. 48 P.S. §1324. Except as provided in §§1323 and 1324, the liability of an Owner for property damage suffered by a camper shall be as
a depository for hire. The Owner will not be liable if the loss or damage occurs in a fire “not intentionally produced by the …. [Owner].” 48 P.S. §1324(b). The limits of an Owner’s liability
are (a) $50 for each valise and its contents, (b) $150 for each trunk and its contents, (c) $10 for each box, bundle or package and its contents, and (f) $50 for all other miscellaneous property. An Owner can consent in writing to assume a greater liability under 48 P.S.§1326(c), but has no legal incentive to do so. Further, an Owner may hold baggage or property of a non-camper at the risk of that other person if (1) that other persons sends the personal property to the Campground before becoming guest or (2) that other person leaves the property at the Campground after ceasing to be a camper.

The camper’s personal property is exempt from levy and sale on distress for rent while in the exclusive possession of the camper in the Lodging. 48 P.S.§1327. But the Owner has a lien
on all baggage and other property of the camper at the Lodging and in control of the camper for charges of accommodations, and all money paid for or advanced to the camper (“Lien Amount”). The Owner may detain all such liened property of the camper until the Lien Amount is satisfied. Such property is exempt from attachment or execution of third parties until the Owner is paid the
Lien Amount and costs of satisfying the lien. 48 P.S.§1328(d). The Owner must retain the liened property for 30 days after which it may be sold at public auction if the Lien Amount is not satisfied. 48 P.S.§1329. Any residue left from the sale must be (a) paid to the camper within 6 months of the sale and (b) deposited with the Treasurer of the county in which the Campgrounds is located, together with the Owner’s claim, costs of enforcing the claim, the public notice of sale and report of amounts received from the auction.

A camper must claim abandoned property left at the Campgrounds within 10 days of the end of the camper’s stay or seasonal agreement. The Owner must disclose to campers in signed waivers the abandoned property policy of the Campground. If the camper claims that property within such 10 days, the Owner must hold the property for another 10 days. If the former camper does not collect the abandoned property within that second 10 days, the Owner may keep or
dispose of it. 48 P.S.§1331.

Other than properly conducting a public sale, holding such abandoned property, disclosing such abandoned property policy, posting a copy of Chapter 13 and, perhaps, posting a
copy of 48 P.S. §1323 in conspicuous print, the Owner has few affirmative duties under Act 33. One such duty is to observe safety in venting heaters. For all cabins or trailers heated by stoves, gas burners or other heating devices, excluding electrical appliances, radiators and electric water heaters, the Owner “shall install adequate chimneys or other vents or outlets for escape of carbon monoxide gas and other harmful or injurious gases generated by the heating devices.” 48 P.S.
§1351(a). That safety requirement is analogous to duties of safety owed by hoteliers to guests.

Sen. Mario M. Scavello (R-40) sponsored SB 863 which became Act 33. It was signed in the Senate and the House on May 27, 2020 and, on May 28, 2020, was presented to the Governor. Governor Wolf approved the Act on June 5, 2020 and it will become effective 60 days thereafter, still within the 2020 camping season. The Act dramatically changes the legal
relationship of Owners and campers. It is uncertain whether the Act will change the terms of seasonal agreements written by reference to the LTA or whether State Police and local
enforcement officers will be trained to evict disorderly campers in assistance to Owners. According to Sen. Scavello, “Now [Owners] can operate much safer without abusive campers… [and] campers know they will have a quiet enjoyable time [at Campgrounds].”

© 2020 Robert J. Hobaugh, Jr.

Robert J. Hobaugh, Jr.