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Realty groups support laws on property rights

Realtors went to bat for property owners in 1995 and scored several victories that will have a positive impact on the Rochester community if and when they are enacted into law. Here are some of the major legislative issues the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors Inc. and the National Association of Realtors successfully pursued or supported last year:
Unfunded mandate reform: A new law became effective on Jan. 1 that states when any federal legislation imposes a mandate greater than $50 million in any fiscal year in state and local governments, the Congressional Budget Office has to issue an analysis that includes: a description of the mandate; the expected cost to state and local governments; and a statement as to whether the mandates are to be partially or entirely funded.
It also created legislative procedural restrictions to limit congressional floor action on bills that create unfunded federal mandates in excess of $50 million on state and local governments. This law will lessen the financial burdens imposed by such mandates on state and local governments that have been faced with the dilemma of eliminating or reducing vital government services or raising property taxes to pay for them. This has a dramatic impact on the affordability of housing and the marketability of the affected communities.
Clean Water Act of 1995 and wetlands: The House-approved legislation includes a standardized wetlands definition; a clearly defined permitting process; the creation of a property wetlands ranking system; a requirement that those affected be notified of wetlands inventories in their states; and support of the use of wetlands mitigation banking.
Also included are important compensation provisions under which property owners would be compensated for governmental actions devaluing property as a result of wetlands statutes. This legislation would compensate owners who have had “all visible use” of their land taken as a result of a wetlands designation. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
Mortgage-interest deduction: Our industry fought attacks by former Sen. Bob Packwood and others who sought to enact real estate tax measures such as reducing the mortgage-interest deduction from $1 million to $250,000. The MID is one of the best home-ownership benefits, and changes could have serious implications for the value of homes and home ownership.
Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995: A new law enacted on Dec. 28 immediately eases fair-housing requirements for senior-housing communities that wish to exclude children. The housing must no longer provide significant facilities and services designed to meet the social and physical needs of older persons.
It also provides a good-faith defense for third parties who rely on the housing facility’s written claim that it has met the other requirements to be designated as senior housing, specifically that the housing facility publishes and adheres to policies that demonstrate intent to provide senior housing and that at least 80 percent of the occupied units house at least one person 55 years of age or older.
FHA single-family housing: We opposed efforts to make policy changes to the Federal Housing Administration single-family insurance program as part of the budget-reconciliation process. The House and Senate banking committees strongly considered increasing the FHA mortgage-insurance premium (MIP) by 0.25 percent.
If these FHA policy changes had been considered and approved, it would have triggered a wrong precedent to achieve fiscal and budgetary objectives at the expense of home buyers and the real estate industry.
Multifamily housing: Both the House and Senate approved the fiscal year 1996 Department of Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, which subsequently was vetoed by the president. The bill includes several favorable provisions, such as $85 million in credit authority for the FHA multifamily-housing mortgage-insurance program. The bill also extends the expiring project-based Section 8 contracts at current rents for one year and clarifies that the two-person-per-bedroom occupancy standard is generally acceptable and in accordance with the fair-housing law. Those provisions will help assure the continued effectiveness of federally assisted multifamily-housing programs.
Commonsense Legal Standards Reform Act of 1995: The House-approved version of the legislation establishes standards for product-liability litigation, commonly referred to as tort reform. The legislation extends punitive-damages limitations to all civil actions–not just product-liability suits–that include large and small businesses, local governments, or charitable and service organizations. This legislation will discourage people from filing frivolous lawsuits.
The Senate has introduced the Product Liability Fairness Act, which is a narrower version of the bill passed by the House.
Private-property protection: The House approved private-property-rights legislation that requires federal agencies to compensate private-property owners for federal action taken under the Endangered Species Act, the wetlands provisions of the Clean Air Act, and other specific laws regarding water rights that reduce the value of any section of a landowner’s property by 20 percent or more.
It also allows property owners whose property has been devalued by more than 50 percent to force the federal government to purchase their property outright. This legislation will ensure that federal agencies don’t infringe on the property rights of landowners. Similar private-property-reform legislation has been reported out of committee in the Senate.
The Greater Rochester Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors continue to work with legislative entities for legislative successes that will benefit property owners and consumers in the real-property arena.
(Roz Gerbracht is 1996 president of the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors Inc.)


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