The Berkshire County Board of REALTORS brings you latest legislative news complied from various sources throughout Berkshire County, Massachusetts and beyond. In addition to current news items, you can also find valuable information, insights, talking points and verbal briefings on today’s hottest issues and direct links to the office of your member of congress.
2015-2016 Legislative Session Updates
With the midpoint of the legislative session quickly approaching, here are some updates on the issues we have been working on:
Land Use and Zoning
Due to the short supply of housing in Massachusetts, potential homeowners continue to face increasing housing costs. One of the many issues driving the reduced housing stock is the presence of barriers to production resulting from current zoning laws. The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® in conjunction with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board has filed legislation addressing these barriers. Several of the provisions include easing the production of cluster development housing; allowing in-law apartments by right; allowing multifamily housing construction by right; simplifying the dimensional variance burden and; approving special permits by a majority vote.
On October 19th MAR Government Affairs Staff and REALTOR® members testified before the Joint Committee on Small Business and Community Development on S119 An Act improving housing opportunities and the Massachusetts economy (The H.O.M.E. Bill). Our membership provided examples of how zoning laws impact the development of real estate in Massachusetts.
Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief
The general tax rule that applies to debt forgiven treats the amount forgiven, sometimes referred to as phantom income, as taxable income to the borrower. Proposed legislation would allow homeowners to complete loan modifications, short sales and foreclosures for which they have debt forgiven without making them liable to pay state taxes on that debt. This would mirror the federal law, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, to allow taxpayers to apply for this exclusion on their state tax return.
This fall, the Joint Committee on Revenue gave the bill a favorable report and it advanced to the House Committee on Ways & Means. MAR testified before the committee on the importance of this tax provision and is continuing to work with the committee on the details of the proposal.
Scrap Metal Theft
The problem of copper pipe and wiring theft is widespread in cities and towns across the Commonwealth. Homes in every corner of the state have become targets for metal thieves who strip the metal from the home and sell it to scrap metal dealers. Homes that have been robbed of plumbing and wiring are a community problem, hurting home values in neighborhoods in which thefts occur. Further, the stripping of metal piping and other fixtures from the structure likely makes the home ineligible for conventional mortgage financing. MAR supports the regulation of the secondary metals dealing to dissuade thieves from stealing plumbing and wiring from homes.
On October 14th the House of Representatives unanimously passed An Act regulating secondary metals dealings. MAR Staff was joined by REALTOR® members to testify before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure and requested that the committee advance the bill quickly. Shortly thereafter the committee reported the legislation favorably. The bill now awaits action by the Senate.
MAR continues to work with interested parties on increasing energy efficiency in Massachusetts and therefore reducing utility costs to homeowners. Some proposals, however, attempt to reach this goal without concern for property rights or impacts on the Massachusetts housing economy. One bill would require sellers or their agents to perform a Mass Save energy audit prior to listing a home for sale and disclose to any prospective buyer the information in the energy audit at the time of the listing. Additionally, the bill commissions the design and implementation of an energy scoring and labeling system. Over and above having an enormous impact on an individual’s right to freely transfer land, such requirements would negatively affect the real estate industry in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts is home to some of the oldest housing stocks in the country and mandatory energy scoring of such older homes would significantly stigmatize and potentially devalue an individual’s largest investment.
MAR testified in opposition to the bill in June. MAR has met with the Chairs of the Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee and continues to work with them on this issue. The bill remains in committee at this time.
2013-2014 Legislative Victories
MAR worked closely with Speaker DeLeo and then Attorney General Coakley to pass legislation that limits the amount of flood insurance a lender can require on a home. Although we recognize that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is federally regulated, it is crucial that as one of the most affected states, Massachusetts does all that it can to help protect the interests and homes of its residents. Our combination of old housing stock, high cost of living and prominent coastline make flood insurance an essential, but expensive, aspect of a home.
Governor Patrick’s Fiscal Year Budget Recommendations
Governor Patrick’s FY ’14 budget recommendations contained the repeal of three very important tax provisions for REALTORS®. MAR worked tirelessly to ensure that the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate understood the importance of these provisions detailed below and rejected Governor Patrick’s Proposals.
CAPITAL GAINS EXCLUSION ON HOME SALES
This section of the budget would have removed one of the primary ways in which families accumulate wealth for retirement and the purchase of future homes. Had the Governor succeeded in eliminating this provision, the average homeowner would have been subject to a tax bill of over $4,000 just for selling a home. This would be the equivalent of a $250,000,000 annual sales tax on home sales in Massachusetts.
LEAD PAINT TAX CREDIT
The repeal of this tax credit would have put children at a much greater risk for lead poisoning; particularly those children of low and moderate-income families who own or reside in older homes. The credit is also important as it can remove lead paint from vacant apartments and help bring the much-needed living space back on the market.
TITLE V TAX CREDIT
The repeal of this tax credit would have added significant financial strain on low- and moderate-income homeowners. Without this incentive, fewer people will upgrade failing septic systems resulting in significant environmental risks.
Residential Sprinkler System Requirement
The Senate’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget included a provision that would have granted municipalities the authority to mandate the installation of automatic sprinklers in new or substantially rehabilitated one and two family homes. MAR successfully lobbied the Conference Committee to reject the Senate proposal and it was not included in the FY 2015 budget sent to, and signed, by the governor.
Each individual listed below is linked to their Massachusetts Legislators web page. This page includes all contact information, as well as e-mail, when available.
State of Massachusetts
Berkshire Representatives & Senator:
United States Senate
United States Congress