10 for 10: 10 Noteworthy Legislative Victories During The Last 10 Years

 Tom Larson  |    January 06, 2014

Over the last decade, the WRA has successfully passed numerous laws to improve the regulatory environment and defeated other proposals that would have negatively impacted the real estate industry. While the political makeup has changed considerably over the last decade, with Republicans and Democrats taking turns controlling one or more parts of state government, the WRA has continued to advance a proactive legislative agenda and has worked effectively with lawmakers from both political parties.

While ranking the importance of one legislative victory over another is difficult because each victory has its own special significance, this article identifies 10 of the most important legislative victories by the WRA over the last 10 years, arranged in chronological order.

Smart growth

In 1999, the WRA helped author Wisconsin‚Äôs comprehensive planning law, known as ‚ÄúSmart Growth,‚ÄĚ which is a framework to guide local land-use plans and community growth decisions. While enacted almost 15 years ago, the law has been amended several times over the last decade and has been targeted almost annually by detractors looking to repeal the law. The law has encouraged more balanced land-use decisions by requiring communities to proactively plan for, among other things, housing and economic development. Additionally, Smart Growth has provided an opportunity for the WRA to help further establish REALTORS¬ģ as a leading voice on land use and quality-of-life issues in their communities.¬†

Property tax freeze

In 2005, Wisconsin lawmakers enacted the first property tax freeze after several years of double-digit property tax increases. The freeze was and continues to be an important property tax control measure by capping property tax increases but allowing local levies to increase by the value added from new growth and construction. Moreover, although recognized as a temporary, short-term solution, the freeze has helped establish the need for greater property tax reform to address the problem of an overreliance on the property tax to fund our schools and local governments.

Broker agency modernization

In 2006, the WRA helped update and modernize Wisconsin’s agency law to better reflect the modern trend of buyer agency. The law was aimed at making brokerage services more transparent, easier for the consumer to understand and bringing the law more in line with existing best practices. Among other things, the law also significantly changed the practice of real estate brokerage by revising the rules to allow for dual agency so that two agents from the same company could provide a full range of brokerage services for sellers and buyer clients in a transaction. 

Real estate transfer tax

In 2007, Wisconsin lawmakers proposed a doubling of the real estate transfer tax from $3 to $6 per $1000 of value. On a median-priced home, the proposal would have increased the transfer tax from $500 to $1000. The WRA, through the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance, helped mobilize thousands of homeowners who had their homes listed for sale at the time. Due to the large response from homeowners and REALTORS¬ģ, the provision was eventually removed from the state budget.¬†

Broker price opinions 

In 2008, the WRA defeated proposed legislation that would have required anyone giving an opinion about the value of real estate, except for purposes of real estate sales, to be a licensed/certified appraiser. The proposed legislation was an effort by appraisers and several assessors to limit the ability of real estate brokers to give opinions of value for insurance purposes, challenging tax assessments, financing for non-federally insured loans, and other circumstances.

Commercial lien law

In 2010, lawmakers revised Wisconsin’s commercial lien law to increase the law’s effectiveness and make it more accurately reflect common real estate practice. The law was modified to make the lien process less adversarial and to expand the scope of the law to cover commercial lease transactions. The changes were critical to giving commercial real estate brokers a means to enforce their listing and service contracts to ensure they were fairly compensated for work performed.

Landlord/tenant local preemption

Since 2011, lawmakers have enacted three different landlord/tenant laws to better protect the rights of landlords by preempting local communities from regulating landlord/tenant activities in several different areas. These laws were in response to a growing number of local communities passing ‚Äútenant-friendly‚ÄĚ laws and overriding specific provisions in lease agreements. Among other things, these new laws prohibit local communities from establishing their own standards related to evictions, security deposits, and disposal of personal property left behind.¬†

Piers/Ch. 30 regulatory reform

In 2012, lawmakers (hopefully) brought an end to an ongoing controversy surrounding the regulation of piers, which dated back to 2004. In 2004, the Wisconsin DNR attempted to pass rules that would have made thousands of existing piers illegal due to new size restrictions being applied retroactively. The proposed rules were met with strong public opposition and eventually defeated, due in large part to notification and education by the WRA’s Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance. The new law, enacted in 2012, grandfathered all existing piers and guaranteed that all riparian owners have a right to place a pier.

Nonconforming structures 

In 2012, lawmakers passed a law protecting the ability of property owners to perform unlimited maintenance and repairs on nonconforming homes and buildings. The new law effectively repealed the ‚Äú50-percent rule,‚ÄĚ which artificially limited the ability of homeowners to improve nonconforming homes and structures by capping the cost of such improvement to 50 percent of the fair market value of the structure.¬†

State preemption of local real estate broker regulations 

In 2013, the WRA helped pass a law that prohibits local governments from regulating and imposing any fees on real estate brokers or the practice of real estate. While the practice of real estate had generally been regulated exclusively at the federal and state levels, local governments recently had become more active in regulating real estate brokers by imposing disclosure duties, inspection obligations, and civil liability for the failure to comply with these requirements. Moreover, the potential existed for local communities to require their own forms or the payment of a fee to perform brokerage services within the community. 

While the WRA has enjoyed tremendous legislative success over the years, the success would not be possible without the active involvement of REALTORS¬ģ throughout Wisconsin. By meeting with legislators in their districts, responding to calls to action, being involved politically, and attending REALTOR¬ģ & Government Day, REALTORS¬ģ have helped make the WRA effective at the Capitol for decades and hopefully for many more decades to come.

Tom Larson is Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA.

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