About Howard Handler

Howard Handler is the Illinois Association of REALTORS® local Government Affairs Director (GAD) representing North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® and Lake County for the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®.

Almost a decade later, REALTOR® effort has lasting effect

Howard Handler

In 2013, local Government Affairs Director Howard Handler described the domino effect of REALTOR® advocacy. Handler recounted how a successful REALTOR® effort from 2008, to beat back an illegal real estate transfer stamp program adopted by the city of Highwood, led to squashing a similar ordinance and proposal, respectively, in the villages of Golf and Riverwoods. Nearly a decade later, our advocacy still has legs.

When village of Deerfield staff, trying to tackle illegal sanitary sewer infiltration, toyed with the idea of requiring a village-issued transfer certificate prior to recording a deed, the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) jumped in. NSBAR shared with Deerfield staff the written decision by the Lake County Recorder of Deeds to record deeds with or without Highwood’s faux-transfer stamp.

Deerfield staff in a memorandum to the Village Board wrote: “Upon reviewing the 2008 opinion issued by the Lake County Recorder’s Office… Village staff and the Village Attorney concluded that only non-compliance with a referendum approved transfer tax would be sufficient to prohibit real estate transfers in the Village.”

Deerfield village staff and Board of Trustees have instead decided to conduct an educational and incentive-based campaign to bring illegal sanitary sewer hookups into compliance.

“Deerfield staff were very receptive to our concerns that a transfer certificate requirement without voter approval was not only unlawful, but that it would unduly interfere with home sales,” said Handler.  “We recognize the problems caused by illegal sewer connections and look forward to working with the village on educating REALTORS® and property owners.”  Handler is also a Deerfield resident.

REALTORS® put themselves in clients’ shoes when they visit Lake County government offices

Circuit Judge Daniel Jasica helped REALTORS® understand evictions so they can be better resources for landlords and tenants. See photo gallery at bottom of this story.

Lake County REALTORS® braved unprecedented flooding and closed roads to attend a special, REALTOR®-only real estate related walking tour of Lake County government offices Monday.

REALTORS® met with Recorder of Deeds Mary Ellen Vanderventer to learn more about the recording process and how to access real estate records, then met Treasurer David Stolman to learn more about property tax bills and collections. Circuit Court Judge Luis A. Berrones taught them about the foreclosure mediation program, Circuit Court Judge Daniel L. Jasica spoke about evictions, and Chief County Assessment Officer Martin P. Paulson explained about the property assessment process and appeals.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor was scheduled to appear but he and numerous REALTORS® were unable to attend due to area flooding.

REALTORS® target point of sale inspection policy in Beach Park

Source/Bigstock

REALTORS®, more than anyone, know how complicated and fragile the home selling process can be.

Every step of the home selling process, from contract to closing, and everything in between, can complicate and derail a home sale.  Introducing another prerequisite – the government home inspection – only serves to increase costs and create more opportunities to disrupt the transaction.

Only a small minority of Illinois municipalities require a government home inspection prior to sale.  And unlike state licensed private home inspectors, municipal inspectors have no minimal training or standards requirements, and sellers must correct any violations found by the government inspector.  Worse, government inspectors often nitpick over cosmetic rather than life-safety concerns.

For these reasons, the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® (MORe) has teamed up with the Illinois REALTORS®, by way of the Real Property Alliance, to take aim at the Lake County village of Beach Park’s policy requiring an exterior inspection of one’s home prior to sale.  The two associations have launched a sophisticated advocacy campaign to take the message directly to Beach Park residents.

Through newspaper advertisements, electronic mail, and social media advertising, Beach Park residents have been directed to www.BeachParkInspections.com where they can learn even more about the issue and send a message to the Beach Park village board encouraging them to end point-of-sale inspections.  The campaign has been well received by the public and we are seeing a steady stream of property owners telling their village board to stop interfering with home sales.

“REALTORS® are not saying the village shouldn’t address code violations, but what makes it frustrating is code violations can be addressed at any time of the year by the village as opposed to right when a resident is trying to sell their home,” says Kris Seegren a REALTOR® and Beach Park resident. “I have never seen a municipal inspection make the transaction go smoother; in fact it just adds further points of contention between the parties at a late date in the transaction, sometimes causing sticking points of negotiation right at the closing table.”

REALTORS® rein in Zion’s nuisance property ordinance

Bigstock

The Illinois REALTORS® does not just advocate against transfer taxes and government pre-sale home inspections — we took the lead in reining in the city of Zion’s chronic nuisance property abatement ordinance that was, among other things, targeting sexual assault and crime victims.

Zion’s chronic nuisance property abatement ordinance authorizes city staff to contact property owners when two of 13 defined nuisance activities are found to have occurred within a 180 day period. If a property owner does not respond or a proposed plan of action is not mutually agreed upon, the property must be shut-down for a period of 30 to 180 days and all occupants, regardless of culpability, must immediately vacate the building and be subject to homelessness. Other penalties include civil fines and judicial remedy.

The Illinois REALTORS® has long maintained concerns with these types of ordinances that often penalize property owners for seeking police assistance – the police services they pay for. Echoing our concerns, the Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law, writes, in their report, the Cost of Being “Crime Free”: Legal and Practical Consequences of Crime Free Rental Housing and Nuisance Property Ordinances, “these ordinances present numerous potential pitfalls that can cause serious harm to tenant households, landlords, and the community at large and expose municipalities to legal liability.”

Upon hearing of escalated and abusive enforcement, the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® (MORe) Lake County Government Affairs Committee took the lead in investigating, and uncovered, among other concerns, that the city was violating its own policy by enforcing the ordinance even in cases of just one alleged nuisance instance and breaking Illinois law by enforcing the ordinance against the disabled and victims of domestic and sexual violence at risk.

According to a front page Lake County News-Sun story profiling our findings, Zion Mayor Al Hill says the city is now sending far fewer violation notices, no longer enforcing against crime victims, and violation notices now must have supervisory approval.

Illinois REALTORS® and MORe will continue to monitor this ordinance for continued abuse. To read the Lake County News-Sun’s story on Zion’s ordinance, click here; to read the Lake County News-Sun’s editorial calling the ordinance “misguided,” go here.

Once, twice, three times rental licensing killed in Evanston

Evanston City Council Meeting

A large crowd looks for seating at the Evanston City Council Meeting in March.

For at least the third time in recent history, the Evanston City Council rejected a rental licensing scheme that would empower city staff to revoke the ability to rent property.

The most recent proposal, in mid-March, in addition to licensing rental properties, sought to classify rental properties into two tiers – Tier I (“good” properties) and Tier II (“bad” properties).  Properties classified as Tier II would be subject to more frequent inspections, significantly higher fees and mandated public shaming of their status. The city maintains a simpler rental registration ordinance.

Coupled with the licensing ordinance, city staff proposed amendments to the city’s nuisance premises ordinance which is designed to bring alleged nuisance properties – rental or owner occupied – to the table in an effort to abate the nuisances.  The North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR), along with other concerned residents, echoed the sentiments of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Open Communities, and the American Civil Liberties Union which wrote in a joint letter that Evanston should “consider relying on its existing authority to regulate rental housing and bring enforcement actions against problem property owners.”

Evanston - a view of Chicago on the right. The building in the center is under construction.

Evanston – a view of Chicago on the right. The building in the center is under construction.

Evanston REALTORS®, landlords, and other interested parties, largely led by NSBAR, vehemently criticized the proposals. The turnout at the first meeting was so large the fire chief was compelled to direct some attendees to an annex room with a live telecast of the meeting.

Ultimately, after two city council meetings, the Evanston City Council unanimously, again, rejected rental licensing and agreed to form a committee, comprised of aldermen and real estate professionals, to further study the nuisance premises ordinance.

“Rental licensing seems to be proposed by Evanston staff every four years, and we have been able to defeat it every time by educating the city council of its consequences and lack of necessity,” said NSBAR Past President Dan Schermerhorn (Schermerhorn & Co., Evanston).  “We are very pleased that the city council listened to our concerns and has agreed to work with us on any developing any changes to existing regulations.”