Government Affairs First Quarter Update

Massachusetts State House in Boston

The first quarter of 2018 saw housing issues take center stage in state government. The Senate announced its next two leaders, and mandatory energy scoring bills left and came back again all within just a few months. MAR is also excited to announce that Governor Charlie Baker will be the keynote speaker at the 33rd Margaret C. Carlson Realtor® Day on Beacon Hill on June 7.

Senate President Chandler:
On Feb. 7, the Senate voted to remove the word “acting” from Senate President Harriette Chandler’s title. Chandler has indicated that she does not intend to serve beyond the current 2017-2018 legislative session, which ends on July 31st. The vote signaled that former Senate President Stan Rosenberg would not be returning to lead the Senate in 2018 and can also be viewed as an attempt to quiet some campaigning amongst members looking to lead the chamber in 2019. Chandler has held numerous leadership positions in the Senate since she was elected in 2001. She most recently served as majority leader of the body.

Senate President Spilka:
Attempts to quiet political jockeying amongst senators seeking to take over the presidency did not last long. Just over a month after announcing that the Senate would remove the word “acting” from Senate President Chandler’s title, Senator Karen Spilka announced that she had secured the support of more than 25 of her colleagues to take over as Senate president. Senator Spilka currently chairs the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee and was the 2017 keynote speaker at Realtor® Day on Beacon Hill.

Governor Baker’s Housing Choice Initiative
On Jan. 30, the Joint Committee on Housing held a public hearing on Governor Baker’s H.4075 An Act to promote housing choices. MAR Past President David Wluka and Greater Boston Real Estate Board Chairman Mike DeMilla provided testimony in support of the legislation, noting that it has become more and more difficult to build housing in Massachusetts. The legislation seeks to reduce the voting requirement for some local housing production zoning changes from the current two thirds to a simple majority vote.

In early March, Realtors® continued to show their support for Baker’s Housing Choice Initiative and participated in a business group roundtable event at the Statehouse. MAR President Rita Coffey, Government Affairs Committee Chair Anthony Lamacchia, MAR CEO Rob Authier all participated in the meeting with Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and other business and industry executives. The group had the opportunity to highlight the shrinking housing supply and bolster comments from the business community stating how difficult it is to attract employees to the area due to the housing deficit.

Short-Term Rental Taxes and Regulations:
The effort to tax and regulate short-term vacation rentals took two big steps towards becoming law. At the end of the quarter, the House and Senate both passed bills that seek to levy occupancy taxes and regulate the short-term rental industry. The House bill creates a three-tiered tax structure and a regulatory framework, including a state short-term rental registry and local requirements for safety inspections. The Senate bill, on the other hand, sets a uniform state tax rate of five percent, and creates a municipal option tax up to six percent. The bills are now before a conference committee comprised of three members of the House and three members of the Senate who are tasked with negotiating the differences in the bills. We will keep you updated with more information about how this potential new law could impact Realtors® and homeowners.

Appraisal Management Companies:
The Joint Committee on Financial Services reported favorably on a bill that seeks to regulate appraisal management companies. This bill is important to Realtors® because the bill originally would have captured real estate agents in its definition and would have required that they be licensed as appraisers when conducting broker price opinions or comparative market analysis. MAR lobbied the legislature to include an express exemption for real estate agents providing broker price opinions.

Joint Rule 10:
Feb. 7 was the deadline for decisions on legislation that come before House and Senate committees. According to Joint Rule 10, House and Senate committees have three options when it comes to legislation before them. They can either recommend that a bill ought to pass, ought not to pass, or included in a study order. A study order effectively ends a bill’s progress for the session without requiring the committee to formally recommend or not recommend the bill.

Now that Feb. 7 has passed, there is an opportunity to look back on some of the legislation that MAR opposed this session that was sent to study.

  • Mandatory Energy Audits – Protecting our environment and promoting energy efficiency is a priority of Realtors® in Massachusetts. An Act relative to home energy efficiency (S.1839), however, would have established a government mandate requiring properties listed for sale in the Commonwealth to have an energy audit and label prior to the signing of a contract to purchase. No other state has adopted such a mandate, and no data exists to show that it will lead to measurable increases in home energy efficiency. The policy has the potential to stigmatize older properties, interfere with a tight real estate market, and intrude upon the private property rights of owners.

MAR targeted members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, & Energy through a limited “call for action.” After an overwhelming response, the committee included S. 1839 in a study order.

  • Tenant’s Right to Purchase – House bill, H. 3017 An Act to preserve affordable housing through a local tenant’s right to purchase, would have granted cities and towns the right to enact local bylaws or ordinances to grant renters in a multi-family building a right of first refusal to purchase the building. After marketing a property and receiving a bona fide offer to purchase, an owner would be required to offer the building to an association of the tenants at the same fair market value of the original offer. The bill also created various deadlines that would postpone the sale for almost six months until the tenants would be required to secure financing.

MAR strongly opposed this legislation, which is modeled after a law in Washington D.C. This bill would delay sales, complicate transactions and loans, and infringe on a property owner’s right to sell their property free of restrictions.

Home Energy Scoring Comes Back:
Shortly after the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy sent the energy scoring bill to study, Governor Baker and his Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs filed a similar bill that also seeks to create a requirement that all homes be inspected and scored for energy efficiency before they can be sold. Governor Baker’s H.4371 An Act relative to consumer access to residential energy information has also been referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. The committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on May 2.

Local Regulations Study:
MAR has been participating in a project to study local ordinances and bylaws relative to housing production policies. Specifically, we are part of a group funding the research to review the ordinances and bylaws of 100 cities and towns in the greater Boston area. Some of the policies that we are looking to review are how communities are handling multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, and cluster development. The initial feedback on the research is that many communities make it particularly difficult to build multifamily housing or utilize cluster development techniques.