DAVID M. WALSH – Won’t ‘walk away’

Officials at the Massachusetts Association of Realtors are wasting little time resting on the laurels of their victories on Beacon Hill during the last legislative session. Instead, they are hoping to continue the trend started in 2000 to help score further wins with their agenda in 2001.

“We want to build on our victories and keep the momentum going,” said Joseph Delaney of Coldwell Banker Hunneman in Canton and vice president of legislative affairs for MAR. “We are encouraged with the direction the Legislature has been taking. We look at most of the issues this year as more of a win-win situation for both the industry and the consumers.

“[The agenda] does not have quite the adrenaline rush as last year, but there is still a lot we’re working on,” he said.

Last year, officials throughout the Massachusetts real estate industry claimed victory when, after well over a decade of trying, the Legislature finally passed the Community Preservation Act. Perhaps most importantly, the act passed without a real estate transfer tax as one of the funding provisions. Also last year, MAR’s escrow liability protection bill was passed.

Building on last year’s successes, MAR has resurrected and refiled a number of bills for the current session, as well as come up with a new proposal aimed at easing the burden for property owners trying to comply with Title 5 septic system requirements.

“Title 5 is a high priority for us this year,” Delaney said.

New this year is a measure that proposes an extension of the state’s existing Title 5 tax credit, which is only available to single-family homeowners for the repair of their septic system or for replacement work at their principal residence. The credit, which is taken over five years, can total up to $6,000 or 40 percent of the cost of the septic work, whichever is less.

MAR is hoping to extend the eligibility criteria for the tax credit to include non-owner occupied buildings, including single- and multi-family homes and commercial properties. Last year, the bill didn’t make it out of committee.

Also on MAR’s agenda concerning Title 5 is a bill that looks to create uniform regulations statewide. The bill, which would prohibit any local communities from adopting septic rules stricter than existing Title 5 regulations, was filed to ensure that cities and towns don’t use septic regulations as a way to stifle growth, according to MAR.

“This addresses an abuse of a well-intended law,” Delaney said.

“It would make sense to have a uniform code for Title 5,” said David M. Walsh of David Walsh Realtors in Weymouth and 2001 MAR president. “A uniform code would level the playing field for homebuilders.”

The mandatory rent-escrowing bill, which ran out of time in the last legislative session, makes a return appearance on the MAR agenda in 2001. The bill would clarify the process when tenants claim there are code violations in their housing units and attempt to withhold rent until the problems are fixed. The bill calls for tenants who say they have a right to withhold rent to place the disputed funds in an escrow account until that dispute is resolved.

“We’re not the only ones that have recognized that this situation has to be addressed,” Walsh said of the bill, which also has the support of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and its Rental Housing Association division, in addition to the Small Property Owners Association.

Gov. Paul Cellucci has stated publicly on more than one occasion that he supports mandatory rent escrowing and would sign such a bill if it makes it to his desk.

“This levels the playing field for homeowners and tenants,” Walsh said, explaining that in several instances once the situation is resolved, the missing rent is not recovered. “This is especially important for small property owners. Getting that rent can make the difference in whether you’re able to pay the mortgage. If you can’t get the rent, there’s no money to pay it.”

Best Interest
MAR has also filed a bill calling for a lead-paint tax credit increase. The credit would jump from $1,500 to $2,500 per unit for property owners who delead a home or apartment. According to MAR, less than 2 percent of the state’s housing stock built before 1978 has been deleaded, partly because of the high cost of lead abatement.

The Waltham-based association is also hoping to repeal an existing law that requires homeowners to investigate for and disclose to brokers and prospective buyers whether urea formaldehyde foam insulation was used in the home. The statute was first enacted in the mid-1980s when research showed the UFFI emitted potentially harmful vapors.

“We’re the only state that ever incorporated this disclosure, no one else followed suit,” Delaney said. “The experts are unanimous saying that if UFFI is installed, the vapors have all been out-gassed. In the last five years, no high levels have been found. It has a finite shelf life.

“The local boards of health see this as a non-issue,” he continued. “[The UFFI disclosure] is not obstructing sales, but it’s another complicated layer of the sale we could get rid of.” The bill was first filed in 1999.

Another MAR bill making a return appearance addresses residential water metering in Massachusetts. Based on an interpretation of the state sanitary code by the Department of Public Health, landlords in the state cannot charge a tenant for water usage. For the past two legislative sessions, MAR has supported the filing of separate metering legislation as a means of water conservation.

“It would make sense,” Walsh said of individual water metering. “If each tenant’s water is metered, everyone would pay their fair share, and it would encourage conservation of water once people got their bills and saw how much water they were using.”

“Water bills used to be incidental,” Delaney said, “but now every year they’re getting bigger. I think it’s justified to aid in conservation and share the cost of living … It’s a pocketbook issue.”

Though most of the issues MAR is addressing on Beacon Hill aren’t new, Walsh said his association isn’t discouraged because the bills didn’t become laws in prior sessions.

“We didn’t get continuing education in on the first try, either,” he said. “We’re not going to walk away from something just because it doesn’t pass on the first try, especially if it’s in the best interest of the community.”

MAR Officials Hope to Continue String of Legislative Successes

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min