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®.

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of its school impact fee ordinance, Winthrop Harbor, citing lower property values and declining student enrollment, repealed its school impact fee ordinance.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.

A win for commercial REALTORS® in Lake County

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Municipalities are often searching for new, novel ways to generate revenue.

Lately, some municipalities have toyed with the idea of a lease tax. In Lake County’s village of Bannockburn, officials were considering a lease tax on storage rental units. This was proposed when a storage rental company sought to open a facility in town.

The North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) studied the issue and felt that this was another tax on real estate, albeit a narrow one. NSBAR raised several concerns to the Village, including that the tax would put Bannockburn storage unit operators at a competitive disadvantage and that commercial property owners already pay significant property taxes, often for less services in return.

However, one argument, reportedly, resonated most. NSBAR pointed out that the tax seemingly would only be imposed upon on traditional storage rental units but not other types of storage in consideration of rent. NSBAR wrote: “A plain reading of the proposed ordinance seems to indicate that the proposed tax would only be imposed on what one would consider a traditional storage unit facility. However, it is certainly not uncommon for persons or other entities to rent storage space in a number of locations that do not advertise themselves as a traditional self-storage facility.”

The Village ultimately abandoned the plan to adopt this very narrow real estate tax.

“Some commercial practitioners incorrectly think REALTOR® government affairs only advocates for residential interests. That’s just not true; the Illinois Association of REALTORS® and its local associations are looking out for us too,” stated Matthew M. Nagel, chairman of Metro Storage, LLC and a member of the Northern Illinois Commercial Association of REALTORS® (NICAR).

A rental regulation we can get behind

IAR GAD Howard Handler

The city of Highland Park in Lake County has just adopted a rental registration ordinance on select rental properties – single-family homes and rental units with their own, unique entrance to their specific unit. Very often, the Illinois Association of REALTORS® (IAR) and local REALTOR® associations strongly oppose many municipal rental regulation schemes. Often, they are overly burdensome, costly, and deprive property owners and tenants of their rights and privacy. In the case of Highland Park, though, IAR and the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) did not offer any substantial opposition to the ordinance.

As far as rental regulation ordinances go, this particular ordinance is as simple and basic as it gets. By and large, it mainly requires that Highland Park rental property owners of the aforementioned types of property submit annual paperwork to the city detailing the ownership and contact information for the property in an effort to improve communications between property owners and the city. The ordinance does not include licensing, building inspections, police scrutiny, mandatory classroom training, crime-free lease addendums, and the like that we see plaguing other municipal ordinances.

NSBAR and IAR were there at the beginning, meeting with city elected officials and staff, to discuss our concerns and suggestions with the city. A number of our suggestions were incorporated into the ordinance, and we worked hard to help ensure onerous requirements were kept out of the ordinance.

“Meeting with city officials early was an important step to help ensure the city achieved its goals without unduly burdening property owners and tenants,” expressed REALTOR® Ron Abrams, a Highland Park resident, landlord and principal with Silver Property Group. “A special thanks goes to Mayor Nancy Rotering, the city council, and city staff for their thoughtful, inclusive dialogue.”


Skokie passes comprehensive rental regulations after near two-year struggle

IAR GAD Howard Handler

The village of Skokie, nearly two years after it was first proposed, adopted a comprehensive rental regulation and crime-free ordinance on Jan. 6. The Illinois Association of REALTORS® (IAR) and the members of the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR) were there every step of the way and successfully negotiated a number of key changes with village officials, including:

  • Eliminating a provision that would empower Skokie to sentence real estate licensees to a property management course.
  • Changing the ordinance from “licensing” to “registration” which rescinds the ability of the village to prevent someone from renting their property.
  • Altering a provision that would have required sellers to correct any building code violations prior to sale; the ordinance now allows buyers to undertake the repair (if they post a bond).
  • And much more.

Still, the ordinance is burdensome and flawed. Some components of the new ordinance include:

  • All rental property owners (or their agent) must attend a property management course taught by a police officer with likely no background in property management.
  • All rental properties, including single-family homes, now must undergo a government inspection of the property prior to sale. This is in addition to regular, ongoing inspections of Skokie rental properties.
  • Landlords must begin eviction proceedings if their tenant is allegedly engaged in criminal activity anywhere in the world. The standards to determine if one is engaged in criminal activity is vague, but falls far short of conviction.
  • And more.

NSBAR and IAR have found the ordinance to be needlessly complicated, fraught with constitutional concerns, holds renters to different standards than the rest of the community, and will likely diminish demand for Skokie real estate. A number of other organizations also weighed in against all or various portions of the ordinance, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law, Open Communities, The Institute for Justice, the Skokie Independent Landlord Association, Housing Action Illinois and the Chicagoland Apartment Association.

To read the ordinance, click here.