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®.

REALTORS® rein in Zion’s nuisance property ordinance

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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.”

 

Officials help REALTORS® learn more about Lake County services

Members of the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® (MORe) and North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) toured Lake County government offices last Thursday to learn more about county services that impact real estate.

Topics included the residential mortgage foreclosure mediation program, property exemptions, mortgage fraud, tax bills, evictions, the new Lake County Life initiative, and much more. The presentations were designed to help REALTORS® better understand county government services and processes so they can impart the information to their clients and provide added value.

REALTORS® gained met with Judge Mitchell Hoffman, Circuit Court Clerk Keith Brin, Supervisor of Assessments Martin Paulson, Recorder of Deeds Mary Ellen Vanderventer, Treasurer David Stolman and County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor.

The county officials appreciated the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Lake County REALTORS® who deal with so many aspects of county services.  The dialogue helped facilitate better understanding by professionals on both sides.

Winthrop Harbor cuts development fees in effort to spur growth

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Too often, local governments view development as a way to pad government coffers.  Property owners are forced to come up with significant dollars in impact fees, special service area taxes, frontage fees, linkage fees, and the like in order to receive development approval.

Sometimes the fees are valid and used appropriately. Yet, frequently, local government officials view land use as a privilege, not a property right, and these fees are seen as the price paid in exchange for the “benefit” to build on one’s own land. The fees are too often implemented on loose rationales that any development will place a burden upon the community, and spurious figures are frequently used to calculate the perceived burden. Illinois Association of REALTORS (IAR) local Government Affairs Director Conor Brown previously detailed some egregious examples here.

Howard Handler

Some fees were adopted under legitimate pretenses but the justification no longer holds up. Few communities reevaluate the need and calculations of these once valid fees – they continue to charge these fees as if they are entitled to the money without justification.  Rare is the community that does, in fact, review its existing policies; the Village of Winthrop Harbor being one of them.

Situated in the far northeast corner of Lake County, Winthrop Harbor’s elected officials and staff took a hard look at some of their developer fees.  “They took a candid look– not just to ensure fairness – but because they understood that high development costs adversely impact property values and slow growth,” said REALTOR® Gary Powell (Cornerstone Realty Group, Winthrop Harbor).

Since adoption of its school impact fee ordinance, Winthrop Harbor, citing lower property values and declining student enrollment, repealed its school impact fee ordinance.  A couple months later the Village examined its sewer and water frontage fees, tap fees, and street frontage fees, and eliminated and reduced those fees due to reduced infrastructure needs. Combining all fee reductions, Pat DiPersio, Winthrop Harbor’s Community Development Director, says costs will be reduced by as much as $7,200; according to the REALTORS® Property Resource, the median estimated home value is $157,000.

Piero Orsi (RE/MAX Showcase, Gurnee), Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS (MORe) Lake County Government Affairs Committee chair added, “Winthrop Harbor deserves to be applauded.  What they did not only leads to fairer taxation, but it makes great business sense.  They are announcing to the real estate community that Winthrop Harbor is open for business.”

Special thanks to Pat DiPersio, Mayor Robert Loy, Trustees Kimberly Braden, Buddy Hargett, Robert Marabella, Dana McCarthy, Richard Robards, and Fritz Weiss for their forward-thinking leadership.

Lake Forest latest to liberalize Accessory Dwelling Unit use

Howard Handler

The City of Lake Forest (Lake County) is the latest municipality to recognize the benefits of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), often referred to as granny flats, coach houses, in-law suites, garage apartments and cottages.

Lake Forest is home to many properties originally built with ADUs to accommodate domestic staff, but their use fell out of fashion and became prohibited over time.  However, communities like Lake Forest are starting to rethink allowing their use.

While testifying in support of relaxing ADU regulations, the North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) touted several benefits of ADUs, including, but not limited to:

  • expanding private property rights,
  • increasing property values,
  • creating more affordable housing options and
  • augmenting housing choice for the elderly and adults with disabilities who desire or need to live near their family while maintaining independence.

After careful study, the Lake Forest City Council unanimously voted to allow greater use of ADUs in certain zoning districts and under certain circumstances.

“The Village of Winnetka, in 2012, adopted an ordinance liberalizing ADUs, and now Lake Forest.  NSBAR proudly supported both ordinances, and we hope, over time, as the two communities become more comfortable with the concept, they allow even greater ADU use,” said NSBAR Government Affairs Director, Howard Handler.

Read more on Lake Forest’s effort here.

Want to learn more about ADUs and if they are right for your clients, click here.