A Message from President Mike Theo: Value Added

 Mike Theo  |    August 04, 2017

By now you’ve probably heard that homeowners won a nice legal victory recently when the state Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring homeowners to let local tax assessors inside their homes or else lose the right to appeal their assessment as unconstitutional. Score one for the good guys! In a 5-2 ruling, the court said that the existing law puts homeowners in a precarious position — either forgo their constitutional right against unreasonable searches or forgo their ability to challenge their tax assessment. The WRA has long fought for homeowners’ rights and did so again in this case by filing an amicus brief, known as a “friend of the court” brief, encouraging the court to rule in favor of the property owners. The WRA will now turn its attention to pursuing state legislation to codify this favorable ruling in state statutes. 

Helping make homeownership more affordable, like this proposed statutory change, is a key component to our legislative agenda this session. In addition to the tax assessor issue, our affordability agenda includes encouraging lawmakers to hold the line on property taxes by maintaining current levy limits and increasing K-12 funding while opposing other initiatives that would result in raising property taxes, like repealing the personal property tax without identifying an alternative revenue source.

That affordability agenda also includes creating homebuyer savings accounts, which allow Wisconsin residents to deposit money into a tax-free savings account to be used for the down payment when purchasing a home. We’re also seeking legislation that requires a housing impact statement from state government agencies every time they propose rules so lawmakers and the general public can gauge how the new regulations might help or hurt housing affordability. We’re also seeking clarifications and limitations on homeowner fees for parks and condominium documents.

One other important piece of legislation we’re working on would require local units of government to conduct audits on regulations that impact the cost and availability of housing, such as local development approval processes, local building codes and related fees. This is really important legislation, not just for Wisconsin but around the country, where restrictive local land use policies, zoning rules and building-related codes have contributed to the shortage of homes on the market. While we support local control on these issues, we also believe elected officials and average citizens should be able to adjudicate these rules for their potential impact on housing availability and affordability.

The affordability agenda is only part of our state advocacy efforts that focus on improving the quality of life for Wisconsin property owners and renters alike as well as helping our members and their businesses succeed. That broader agenda includes initiatives to invest in needed infrastructure like roads, TIFs, broadband and schools. It includes legislation to preserve our environment and water resources as well as protect private property rights. We are seeking to change laws to reduce frivolous lawsuits against REALTORS® like extortion from “patent trolls” and improve disclosures on insurance claims. We also are supporting legislation to remove hurdles to successful real estate transactions by clarifying seller pre-agency rules, creating better uniformity in home inspections, enacting regulations on appraisal management companies, and eliminating the burdensome and meaningless rental weatherization rules. 

As with the case of preserving a homeowners’ right to appeal a tax assessment, sometimes the courts help us protect property owners in Wisconsin and across the nation. At other times, though, we need to aggressively advance a legislative agenda to change the laws to achieve that goal. Whether it’s in the courts, in the halls of the capitols in Madison or Washington, D.C., or in county courthouses and city halls across Wisconsin, our advocacy efforts help REALTORS® and property owners alike. While these efforts aren’t cheap, they are wildly important and worth the significant human and financial resources we devote to them. It’s all part of the value we together add to owning property in Wisconsin.

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