Negotiating the Maze of State and Local Politics.
Sorry to be cliche, but all politics is local. The National Apartment Association (NAA) and its more than 150 affiliated chapters recognize this fact and have adapted to tackle some of the most costly restrictions on the apartment industry. Sure there are federal capital gains tax increases and the costs associated with implementing the EPA lead-based paint disclosure rules. But the hardest hits to multifamily housing happen at the state and municipal levels. It is the fire in the small apartment building that triggers a city council to adopt sprinkler retrofits in buildings higher than three stories; or the appearance of absentee owners that convinces a local government to institute an apartment registration program with unfair fees. Sound too familiar? Your state and local apartment associations are the industry's best allies on these issues, and NAA is right there too!
NAA's State & Local Policy Department serves as the hub of a network of industry advocates around the nation. When NAA asked affiliates what it can do to make their jobs easier in the government affairs realm, the answer was simple: be a clearinghouse of research and analysis. The affiliates wanted to call NAA when faced with an issue and receive feedback on their situation, industry contacts who have battled the same issue, and sample language to propose. NAA responded. What started as one bookshelf and a monthly subscription to each affiliates' newsletter has expanded to a roomful of publications, endless files, and an on-line research system that can track down information on any subject in a matter of minutes. The department follows more than 500 issues on a regular basis as well as keeps track of pending legislation and regulations. Department staff responds to hundreds of research requests each year and releases studies or white papers regularly on issues identified by the membership.
There have been two recurring themes in the industry for several years: that apartments are unwanted in a community (NIMBY) and that owners/managers should be held responsible for activities on their properties. That apartments are unwanted has been the root cause of most negative legislation. Whether it is restrictions placed on development or high priced fees for licensure and inspections, apartment owners and managers are constantly facing an uphill battle just to operate. Each time, NAA and its affiliates respond with a host of reports and statistics showing how vital apartments are to a community. Nonetheless, the cost of doing business is increasing each time a local legislative body meets.
That apartment owners should be held responsible for activities on their properties takes on many faces: liability for lead hazards, crimes against residents, sex offenders living in the community, disposal of abandoned property, nuisance activity beyond an owner's control ... the list is endless. Staving off liability is proving to be a well-fought battle: Several states are creating lead hazard funds to limit the amount of liability for property owners if a child is determined to have elevated blood lead levels. Also, state legislation on "lead safe housing" may stymie those advocating for complete (and expensive) lead abatement.
While the courts are divided on holding apartment owners and managers responsible for third party crimes and resident nuisance activity, there have been some outright victories stating that owners (in the right circumstances, usually foreseeability) are not to be held liable.
Although the industry has been concerned about criminal background checks for years, Megan's law issues are the newest wrinkle. Again, several of our affiliates have been successful in legislating that apartment owners and managers have no duty to disclose sex offender information to their other residents. This is an evolving issue that may soon be decided in the courts.
The industry has been proactive too. I remember my first week on the job in 1994 being whisked onto a conference call with Suzanne Gilstrap, then-association executive for the Arizona Multihousing Association (AMA). The subject matter: occupancy standards. Since that call, the AMA has secured passage of a two-person-per-bedroom standard in Arizona. That model has been passed along to adoption in several states and ultimately by Congress last year.
Quick eviction legislation has been adopted in several states. Based on a model law from the President's Commission on Model Laws, the Expedited Evictions for Drug Traffickers statute provides for three-day eviction. Other states have included this type of language for other classes of crime (domestic violence, other crimes against people).
All in all, government affairs professionals in the apartment industry have done an admirable job--there is no chance of their jobs being downsized.
Newcomers to the department include Policy Analyst Michael Herndon and Policy Assistant Amy Tubbs. Please feel free to contact us with your questions or to share what is happening in your state.
RELATED ARTICLE: A CLEARINGHOUSE OF INFORMATION
This list represents some of the many issues that the NAA State & Local Policy Department tracks. NAA members may call to ask questions about these issues.
Abandoned property Americans with Disabilities Act Affordable housing Animals Assignment of rent Background checks Bankruptcy Building codes Carbon monoxide Chlorofluorocarbons/ hydrachlorofluarocarbons Collections Construction liability Corporate housing Crime Daycare Development/growth Drugs Electricity Employee rent-free housing Employment law Energy issues Environmental issues Evictions Extermination Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Fair housing Federal agencies Finance Fire safety Garbage Habitability Impact fees Independent contractors Industry standards Inspections Insurance Late fees Leases Licensing Maintenance Management Marketing Natural disasters Notices to quit Nuisance Occupancy standards Playgrounds Police calls Pools Possession Pre-trial rent deposits Privacy Private property rights/takings Property management Real estate investment trusts Rent control/ stabilization Renting versus owning Repair and deduct Safety issues Security deposits Seniors housing Sign regulations Student housing Subleasing Taxes Telecommunications Tort law Unlawful detainer Utilities Wear and tear Zoning
RELATED ARTICLE: SERVING AS THE SOURCE FOR RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS
NAA's State & Local Policy Department's role as a clearinghouse for research and analysis calls for it to develop white papers on issues affecting the industry. The department has developed several white papers and issues analyses that have a far-reaching impact. These have been prepared with the assistance of the Legislative Committee, Builders, Owners, and Developers Forum, and various task forces. Some recent white papers and analyses include:
[check] Analysis of Sexual Orientation as a Protected Class, October 1998
[check] Impact Fees White Paper, June 1, 1997
[check] Preventing Fires in Multifamily Rental Housing: Retrofit Sprinkler Installations, March 1998
[check] Water Conservation: Water Allocation Programs for Multifamily Rental Housing Communities, June 2, 1998
[check] White Paper on Municipal Apartment Inspection Programs, August 1996
[check] Zoning Moratorium White Paper, June 1, 1997
For a copy of any of these reports, contact Amy Tubbs at 703/518-6141, x127, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
RELATED ARTICLE: ONE-STOP SHOPPING
In addition to its state and local focus, the department has several other roles. It serves as the liaison to the NAA/National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) Joint Legislative Program. Both staffs work in unison to monitor national issues and trends, respond to requests for amicus briefs, and assist NAA's affiliates with questions involving federal legislation and regulations.
The department also handles ali operations and fundraising for the NAAPAC, a federal political action committee that contributes to congressional campaigns (see article on page 31).
Staff for the department oversees the NAA Bookstore, which includes publications that are of value to the membership, and management of NAA's "Annual Income and Expense Survey" (see ad on page 23).
Staff responds to countless requests for industry statistics provided by NAA consulting economist Robert J. Sheehan, the Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a variety of other sources.
The department also oversees the National Accessible Apartment Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization serving more than 140 metropolitan areas and listing more than 40,000 accessible units. The Clearinghouse operates a toll-free message center which provides persons with special housing needs information on apartments designed to meet those needs. Individuals looking for accessible housing or property owners and managers wanting to list their accessible units can call the message center at 800/421-1221. The NAAC can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting its Web site, www.aptsforrent.com/naac. Clearinghouse services are free of charge to all through the sponsorship of the National Apartment Association, National Multi Housing Council, American Computer Software, For Rent Magazine, and the Fannie Mae Foundation.
Vassallo is director of the State and Local Policy Department, NAAPAC Administrator, and executive director of the National Accessible Apartment Clearinghouse for the National Apartment Association, Alexandria, Virginia.
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|Comment:||Negotiating the Maze of State and Local Politics.|
|Author:||VASSALLO, BARBARA ANN|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1999|
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