There’s one clear message emanating from inside the Beltway and that is: few things are clear. It matters little what side of the aisle you lean toward, which papers you read or which nightly commentators you tune in to. The overwhelming message is one of dysfunction. At the risk of sounding a little too pessimistic, there seems to be little leadership in our governmental leadership.
Happily, that dysfunction hasn’t trickled down to the private sector, and IREM’s advocacy efforts on the part of our constituents remains laser-focused. Our public policy agenda is clear and the grassroots lobbying campaign that we have mounted—and our members have embraced—continues to keep what matters most to this industry front and center before our elected, but too-often distracted officials.
In fact, that grassroots effort provided a valuable industry voice just in the past few weeks. As congressional members returned to their home states for the recent recess, IREM urged members to visit their representatives for talks on the policy concerns of the industry. In that time, approximately 49 meetings took place.
And here is a recap of the top seven policy concerns that form the heart of IREM’s legislative agenda:
ADA lawsuit reform. So-called drive-by lawsuits motivated by financial compensation have garnered a lot of press of late, including a recent “60 Minutes” expose. IREM supports legislation to create a “notice and cure” provision within Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This would allow business owners the opportunity to rectify violations within a reasonable amount of time before being threatened with costly lawsuits or demand letters for a monetary settlement.
Interestingly, this has been the source of much confusion on the part of the general public and some legislators, who misconstrue this remedy as a disavowing of ADA. Nothing could be farther from the truth. IREM believes that notice and cure will protect building owners from these drive-bys, while still holding them accountable for ensuring accessibility to all Americans.
Federally assisted housing. As we pointed out in last month’s column, this year marks the anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Federally assisted housing puts people into homes who otherwise would have challenges obtaining safe and decent housing. Under various project-based programs, the federal government, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, contracts with private owners to fund the difference between the rent for the unit and 30 percent of the tenant’s income.
This is obviously a critical issue for IREM members, who own and manage more than 60 percent of all federally assisted housing and public housing units in the United States. And so, it is a critical issue as well for our government affairs committee, and we closely monitor all legislative and regulatory activity pertaining to federally assisted housing. In addition, we engage with policy makers at both the national and grassroots level to encourage continued funding and clarification of new and existing notices and rules.
Rent control. On a related note, IREM is opposed to government control of rents and supports a property owner’s right to establish pricing that produces sufficient income to accommodate the basic needs of residents and encourages investment in new construction and existing properties. IREM urges elected officials at all levels of government to oppose rent control as being counterproductive to the best interests of all segments of society and the economic well-being of the nation.
Medical and recreational marijuana. A hot button topic that promises to grow hotter still, medical and recreational use of pot is garnering more statewide thumbs up, almost on a daily basis. And yet, it is still illegal at the federal level.
Needless to say, this conflict between federal and state laws creates a complicated situation for real estate owners and managers. As a result, property managers must check with local officials to ensure they are up to date on medical marijuana regulations.
There are also tools available to property managers that enable them to deal with marijuana as they see fit, such as lease addendums with which smoking and illegal drug use can be prohibited. IREM invites guidance from the government on how to implement policy and procedures for the properties real estate owners and managers operate.
Flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance program is a partnership among federal, state and local governments to help mitigate flood risk and provide affordable flood insurance to those who need it most. In fact, the NFIP provides more than 90 percent of all flood insurance nationwide and close to 100 percent of flood insurance coverage for individually owned properties and small- to mid-size commercial properties. If the program expires, flood insurance will become more costly or even unavailable.
IREM fully supports reform of the NFIP to ensure its ongoing sustainability; encouragement of cost-effective private flood insurance options; and long-term reauthorization of NFIP so that it remains a viable option for property owners.
Data security. Property managers collect and maintain huge amounts of sensitive data, including social security numbers and financial information, putting them at risk from cyber-criminals. IREM supports government efforts aimed at sharing information about possible cyber threats, establishing reasonable data security standards and helping avert security breaches and their aftermath. In addition, we oppose any legislation that would be overly onerous for property owners and managers or their clients.
Online sales tax. Another issue that has been making headlines these days is the imbalance that exists between online and traditional retailers in terms of the collection of sales tax, and we support legislation that creates a level playing field between the two. That said, we oppose a federal sales tax on purchases made over the internet.
At the heart of this issue lies the states’ inability to collect existing sales tax from remote retailers that do not have a physical presence in the state, creating a price disadvantage for traditional retailers. Obviously, this has risen to the level of crisis with the ever-growing presence of online retailers.
But, quite literally, we shouldn’t make a federal case out of this. The key issues associated with the remote sales tax debate affect state and local government revenues; therefore, state and local legislative action is appropriate.
There they are: the seven major public policy issues currently impacting our membership. Was our position made clear? So it will be in Washington, D.C., where clarity, above all, is needed.
Don Wilkerson is 2018/2019 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he serves as president and CEO of Gaston and Wilkerson Management in Reno, Nev.