The WRA advocates for legislation that benefits Wisconsin homeownership and the real estate market.

Bridging the Gap

December 2018
Tom Larson
Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA

With the election of Democrat Tony Evers as Wisconsin’s new governor and both state houses still controlled by Republicans, Wisconsin will have divided government for the first time since 2008. To be successful in this political environment, lobbying organizations and lawmakers will have to work in a bipartisan manner to find compromises on issues facing our state. 

Fortunately, the WRA has worked closely with both sides of the aisle for years regardless of the political makeup of the state government. Most of our legislative accomplishments have been achieved with strong bipartisan support, including grandfathering existing piers, establishing vested rights for property owners, creating a lien law for commercial real estate brokers, and protecting the ability of real estate licensees to complete state-approved forms. Both Democrats and Republicans generally support many of the WRA’s key policy objectives, including increasing homeownership rates, creating new opportunities for economic development, improving housing affordability and streamlining real estate transactions. 

With the current political makeup of state government in mind, the WRA has developed an agenda for the 2019-20 legislative session aimed at garnering bipartisan support. Subject to approval by the WRA board of directors in January, the list of legislative initiatives includes the following:

Keep housing affordable for Wisconsin families and workers 

  1. Property taxes: Continue to lower the property tax burden for homeowners and businesses by (a) reducing the reliance on property taxes as the sole source of funding for local governments and K-12 schools by finding alternative ways to fund these essential services, (b) maintaining current levy limits, and (c) opposing other initiatives that would result in a property tax increase ‚ÄĒ for example, a repeal of the personal property tax without identifying an alternative revenue source.¬†
  2. Association health plans: Remove regulatory barriers at the state level to fully implement the new federal rules allowing for the creation of association health plans. 
  3. Homeownership savings accounts: Support the creation of a tax-free account that allows Wisconsin residents to deposit money into a savings account that can be used for the down payment when purchasing a home. 
  4. Comprehensive planning: Consider changes to Wisconsin’s comprehensive planning law to create greater certainty for property owners and developers. 
  5. Plat approval: Consider changes to expedite the plat approval process, such as shortening timelines for plat approvals and creating a presumptive approval for plats that provide workforce housing.
  6. Workforce housing tax increment districts (TIDs): Authorize the use of tax increment financing to create workforce housing.
  7. Sales tax exemption for workforce housing: Exempt building materials for workforce housing from state and any local sales taxes.
  8. Chasing sales: Prohibit the practice of increasing tax-assessed property values based only on sales of the subject property.

Create jobs and grow Wisconsin’s economy

  1. Transportation funding: Provide an adequate and permanent increase in funding for transportation infrastructure projects to maintain existing and construct new highways, roads, airports, railroads, public transit, bike paths and bridges that support Wisconsin’s economic development and quality of life.
  2. Local economic development/infrastructure financing tools: Provide Wisconsin municipalities with additional infrastructure financing tools to help them compete with municipalities in other states for jobs and economic development opportunities. 
  3. Tax increment financing limit: Increase the limit on the amount of taxable property permitted to be within TIDs at the time a TID is created or territory is added.
  4. Eminent domain: Maintain the ability to use eminent domain for economic development purposes.

Preserve our environment and water resources

  1. High-capacity wells: Require the DNR to consider the cumulative impacts of high-capacity wells as part of the permit-approval process. 
  2. Phosphorus runoff controls: Protect water quality by controlling phosphorus runoff into navigable waters. 

Protect private property rights

  1. Homeowners associations (HOAs): Create a regulatory framework for homeowners associations. 
  2. Nonconforming structures in floodplains: Modify the 50 percent rule as it applies to nonconforming structures located in floodplains to allow for improvements allowed by FEMA. 
  3. Right to place a pier on ‚Äúmanmade‚ÄĚ waterways and flowages: Create a presumption of riparian rights, including the placement of a pier, on all waterfront property, including ‚Äúmanmade‚ÄĚ waterways.

Remove hurdles to successful real estate transactions

  1. Submerged lands: Resolve legal title issues regarding historically filled lakebeds and riverways so that redevelopment can occur.
  2. Electronic notaries: Authorize the use of electronic notarization of real estate-related documents. 
  3. Monitoring by seller of property: Clarify there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a home during an individual showing or open house.
  4. Electronic transfer of earnest money: Modify state regulations to allow for the use of earnest money to be paid electronically. 
  5. Disclosures by owners of real estate (Wis. Stat. Chap. 709): Make several changes to the real estate condition report and vacant land disclosure report including (a) modifying the right to rescind after an offer is accepted and an amendment to the condition report has been provided, and (b) addressing what happens when a seller provides a condition report with strikethroughs and no responses to the questions. 

Keep REALTORS¬ģ at the center of the real estate transaction

  1. Real estate licensee safe harbor wire fraud protection: Create a safe harbor from litigation related to wire fraud for real estate firms and agents if: 
    1. There was no intentional wrongdoing or negligence by the firm or its agents. 
    2. The buyer was provided a wire fraud statutory form or statutory notice. 
  2. Real estate agency contracts: Clarify a buyer agency contract is enforceable even if the agent does not locate the property the buyer is purchasing or renting. Modify what ‚Äúdescribes the real estate‚ÄĚ for a listing contract compared to a buyer agency/tenant representation agreement.¬†
Tom Larson is Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA.
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