Monthly Archives: June 2015

Wisconsin REALTORS® Push for Homeowners’ Right to Rent Property

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association has been working to protect the rights of homeowners to rent out their residences.

Recent legislation proposed in the Wisconsin Legislature would bar homeowners from renting out their property for any period less than 30 days.

Such a law could affect thousands of homeowners who need to rent our their property to avoid a loss in an upside down or slow real estate market, or to avoid foreclosure. Homeowners may also decide to rent during temporary relocation due to work, school, or military deployment. Some may use renting as a way to finance investments in vacation properties or to keep the family cabin.

Numerous obstacles have already been placed in the way of those who would rent their homes to others. For example, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services has costly and burdensome inspection requirements for homeowners renting space for tourist rentals. Statutory definitions make it difficult for renting to any nonresident of the state no matter the duration, because such a rental is considered a tourist or transient business.

More troublesome are local ordinances that make it difficult or impossible for homeowners to rent out their property on a short term basis, such as a weekly cabin rental or even weekend rentals for special events such as the Oshkosh Air Show or Green Bay Packers games — events that provide popular weekend rental opportunities. In some cases, communities are also adopting ordinances that ban homeowners from renting out their properties for any length of time, or that charge $200 to $500 for rental inspections.

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association is working to protect homeowners and potential owners of rental property. During the fall of 2015, the Association will seek the introduction of “Right to Rent” legislation that prohibits local governments from adopting ordinances that ban or unreasonably restrict the right of homeowners to rent out their homes.

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association is a strong advocate for property rights but also the rights in Wisconsin.

Akron-Cleveland REALTORS® Help Control Rental Rates

Everyone wants to make sure rental properties are well maintained and do not harm property values in the surrounding community. But onerous burdens on landlords can also harm the rental market. Members of the Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS® are working to ensure a balance.

In 2014, the Association’s government affairs director, Jamie McMillen, noticed a flurry of governmental action on rental policy in the Akron-Cleveland area.

“Communities were looking to make sure that properties were well maintained, and of course we have no problem with that,” McMillen said. However, the Association also noticed that some governmental efforts seemed misguided, with little analysis of those efforts’ costs, benefits and unintended consequences.

Although the Association had historically limited its efforts in the rental market, it took the lead in addressing the apparent trend that threatened to harm the community. As McMillen noted, when communities are trying to attract businesses, “the inevitable increase in rental costs would be counter to the goal of having affordable housing available for the workforce.”

A recent example of success for the Association’s campaign occurred when the city of Fairlawn, Ohio, proposed a layer of rental oversight, which would have inevitably led to increased rental rates and might have violated Fair Housing laws. The Association was able to take advantage of the Land Use Initiative program of the National Association of REALTORS® to fully analyze the proposed legislation. Armed with clear data, the Association was able to get the ordinance tabled once it presented the data to Fairlawn’s city council and mayor.

McMillen said the Association is achieving similar results in other area communities.

The Akron-Cleveland Association of REALTORS® has access to powerful tools that might be cost prohibitive to small communities but are critical to maintaining safe, attractive neighborhoods without unnecessarily burdening property owners.

Alabama Realtors® Fight Eminent Domain Foreclosures

The spike in foreclosures in recent years has left many property owners vulnerable. The Alabama Association of REALTORS® is working hard to protect private property rights in the state, and to protect vulnerable property owners from unfair foreclosures.

Recently, the Association worked with its members to support bills in the state Senate and House (SB 83 and HB 121) that would ban the taking of residential and commercial real estate through eminent domain proceedings. The bills were later combined and signed into law by the governor on April 9, 2015.

In the actions targeted by the legislation, investment companies join with municipalities to seize a property that has a market value well below what is owed on its mortgage. When a property has this “upside down” status, potential lenders often respond by charging higher interest rates and demanding higher down payments from potential homebuyers, discouraging home ownership.

Protecting homeowners against an unreasonable taking of their property helps keep the housing market active and stable.

The Alabama Association of REALTORS® is actively advocating for the protection of the rights of all citizens and property owners.

Milwaukee REALTORS® Keep Consumers Informed About Schools

The Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS® is working with local governments to help homebuyers and homeowners get the information they need in order to make informed choices about their local schools.

One of the biggest concerns for a family buying a home is the quality of the school their children will be attending. Likewise, current homeowners are concerned about maintaining the quality of schools in their communities.

For the past 26 years, the REALTORS® Association has supported the Public Policy Forum, which compiles and analyzes information gathered from school districts in southeastern Wisconsin. REALTORS® are able to use this information for the benefit of consumers in real estate and housing purchases.

The information from the Policy Forum consists of changes in state and federal education policies, school districts’ standardized test scores, participation metrics, school finances, student enrollment numbers, and other demographics. All of this information is useful not only to homebuyers looking to move into the Milwaukee real estate area, but also to property owners who pay taxes to support their local schools. The Policy Forum’s publications are available on its website.

The Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS® knows how important high-quality schools are to homebuyers and homeowners. Good schools are also an essential part of a strong community. Giving residents the information they need to make informed decisions will help build good schools and strong communities.

Rhode Island REALTORS® Successfully Fight Statewide Property Tax

Every property owner in Rhode Island currently pays local level property taxes. New legislation this year would have added an extra, statewide property tax. The Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® is taking a strong stance against this proposal.

The proposed tax is contained in Article 11 of House Bill 5900, the state appropriations bill. The tax has been described by the governor of Rhode Island as a tax that would affect only property owners of real estate valued at more than $1 million.

The proposed tax — wrongly dubbed by the media as the “Taylor Swift Tax,” due to the singer’s home in Rhode Island — is a $2.50 tax per $1,000 of property valuation. The tax would affect not just affluent property owners in the state, but would be levied on all non-owner-occupied homes, smaller multi-units if owned by one property owner, mobile home parks and mobile homes, condominiums, and any vacant land that has a valuation of over $1 million.

The Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® is concerned about the affect the tax would have on the housing market. One major issue is what a statewide property tax would do to the market for second homes and vacation homes. Many such homes are valued at over $1 million, and with neighboring states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts not having such high property taxes, this tax could easily cause a decrease Rhode Island’s secondary real estate market.

Members of the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® have been active in opposition to the tax. REALTORS® have gone to the Legislature to advocate for rejection of the tax proposal, and have gained support from the Speaker of the House. REALTORS® have taken their cause to the media, and have taken a grassroots approach — speaking out to the public about the long-term affects of the proposed tax. In addition, REALTORS® have also gone to local governments to speak out about the implications of the proposed tax on local property taxes, referenda, and the appeal of assessments by those fighting to avoid additional taxes.

The grassroots approach has worked for now. The Governor’s Office has found other sources of revenue.

The Rhode Island Association of Realtors® remains ready and willing to advocate against the property tax proposal, should it return.

Austin Board of REALTORS® Advocates for New Development Code

The Austin Board of REALTORS® is working with the City of Austin, Texas, to rewrite and revise the city’s Land Development Code, a disorganized set of rules and regulations that has been hard for new developers and property owners to interpret and comply with.

Many suburban neighborhoods and local homeowner associations also have their own codes and covenants that increase the complexity of the Land Development Code. As the revision progresses with the new Austin City Council, the Board of REALTORS® will work to assist and advocate for a more streamlined and consistent Code. A more efficient Code will allow property owners to move within Austin without worrying about new regulations that are inconsistent with their old neighborhood.

Last November, the voters in Austin elected a new mayor and nine new City Council members. The Board of REALTORS® is monitoring city government to understand where the new officials will take a stance on such important issues as property rights, consumer protections and real estate development.

The Board will also advocate for, and assist the City Council in developing a new permitting process that makes residential building requirements and codes uniform, and the city more cohesive.

The Austin Board of REALTORS® will continue to work with city government to build a better, stronger community.

Wyoming REALTORS® Help Pass State’s First Fair Housing Law

Thanks in large part to efforts by the Wyoming Association of REALTORS®, Wyoming’s first fair housing act will go into effect on July 1, 2015. Until recently, Wyoming was one of the few states without a fair housing law that prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale and financing of homes.

Without a state fair housing act, Wyoming homeowners, landlords and others involved in the home-sale or rental process were bound only by federal laws prohibiting housing discrimination. These laws, in theory, provided protections for prospective renters and homeowners, but the complaint process was slow and ineffective. Under the federal law, fair housing complaints from Wyoming were directed to the regional Housing and Urban Development office in Colorado. But there the relatively few complaints per year would get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, slowing the resolution of those complaints and frustrating both the parties filing complaints and the parties responding to them. For example, one complaint took two years and approximately $20,000 in legal costs before it was dismissed as having no basis.

For years, the Wyoming Association of REALTORS® had heard complaints about the existing system. These complaints came from the public, those responding to complaints, and from REALTORS®. In the Association’s successful push for passage of a Wyoming fair housing act it galvanized its membership, lobbied legislators, and helped draft the act’s language.

In all of its efforts, the Association focused on ensuring that the proposed fair housing act would be politically viable, since a similar bill had failed to pass a few years prior. One of the legislative and public concerns that threatened to prevent the act’s passage was that a fair housing act would unnecessarily add a new government agency and expenses to the state’s budget. REALTORS® developed a unique solution to this concern: the enforcement of the act will be conducted by either a state agency or by a nonprofit organization funded through HUD grants. This provision allows the act to be revenue neutral and gives flexibility in its enforcement.

The Wyoming Association of REALTORS® believes that everyone, regardless of race, color, religion, familial status, or other group membership, should have equal access to housing for sale and rent. The Wyoming fair housing legislation is an important first step that will help protect these rights and allow for quicker and more efficient resolution of fair housing claims.

Birmingham Association of REALTORS® Advocates for Smart Growth

The Birmingham Association of REALTORS® is fighting blight in its community by advocating for “Smart Growth.”

Working with local government officials, the Association is promoting a growth and development plan that focuses on coordinated planning across the different communities in the Birmingham area. Many areas need renovating, by removing the urban blight that has developed over the years.

Birmingham has 37 municipalities, each with its own zoning ordinances that govern the development and growth in its community. This situation leads to a wide discrepancy in median housing prices across the area served by the Association. With the Smart Growth plan, the median housing price, residential housing age, neighborhood development age, and demographics would all be consistent throughout the region, offering an increase in median housing prices for several areas and affecting commercial property pricing as well.

In the course of their advocacy for the Smart Growth plan, the Association has also done extensive research into the ways communities and property owners can increase property values and decrease urban blight. The Association is educating government officials and consumers about grant opportunities such as façade grants, which are used to improve the street-facing facades of commercial buildings. Such improvements will make downtown and commercial districts more attractive and will encourage growth and development.

The Birmingham Association of REALTORS® sees the Smart Growth plan as a means of advocating for a healthy community, not through local government control but through the efforts of the entire community.

Columbus REALTORS® Revive Home-Building Training Program

Nearly 40 years ago, Columbus REALTORS® invested in Columbus, Ohio, neighborhoods by providing seed money for a home-building program in Columbus schools. That program lasted 20 years. Now, Columbus REALTORS® have helped to revive the program, which provides scholarships to students.

In 1976, thanks to the vision of Dr. Bob Weiler and an initial investment from the Columbus Association of REALTORS®, a successful home-building program began. Over the next 20 years, students built and sold 27 single-family homes in the Columbus area. Now, that program is being redeveloped to not only give students the valuable experience they need to enter the building trades, but also to improve distressed neighborhoods.

Through the new program, called Project FORTify, students in the construction trades program at the Ft. Hayes Career Center will focus their efforts on properties in the distressed neighborhoods surrounding the Ft. Hayes campus. This new effort includes a number of partners working with REALTORS® to improve Columbus neighborhoods: Columbus City Schools, the Columbus and Franklin County land banks, the Building Industry Association, the city’s Department of Development, the city’s Department of Building and Zoning Services, Habitat for Humanity, and Columbus City Council members.

“Scarcity in the skilled trades workforce in the Columbus region continues to be a challenge for area home builders, and threatens to slow business growth in the community,” said Columbus REALTORS® Treasurer Mic Gordon. “We want to help fix the problem, and this program is a perfect fit. It’s a win for the community, a win for the schools, and most importantly, it’s a win for these students as they gain the needed experience to become ready for the workforce following high school.”

Project FORTify is finalizing program details and preparing to purchase its first parcels of land, with a full launch planned for the fall of 2015.