Homing in on session plans Industry lobbyists prepare strategies for General Assembly

Lower profile in '98

In contrast, '97 work was dominated by Smart Growth battle

January 11, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

For Steve Wise, this year's legislative agenda just won't carry the same flow of adrenalin. Last January, much of his time and energy was spent representing the Maryland State Builders Association's viewpoint as Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth legislation wound its way through Annapolis.

As the association's governmental affairs liaison, he is expecting to work on issues this year that will carry a much lower profile.

"To put the upcoming session in perspective, we're kind of happy and delighted that we're not faced with Smart Growth, which we dealt with last year. We've closed that book for now," Wise said.

The key issues that Wise, as well as Bill Castelli of the Maryland Association of Realtors, will tackle as the General Assembly opens Wednesday will touch on two main concerns.

For Wise, it will be legislation that will affect the way developers and homeowners associations resolve disputes concerning common ground. For Castelli, it will be a bill that is coming out of summer study that will more clearly define who represents whom in a real estate transaction.

Gilbert D. Marsiglia, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said his organization will meet tomorrow with the MAR to define its positions.

"We do have a couple of proposals that we are putting in this year, nothing earth-shattering, but things that we think will make a difference for builders and developers," Wise said in explaining the dispute resolution bill.

"We have a growing problem of builders who are faced with litigation from condo or homeowner associations, regarding the common areas of those developments," Wise said. "A lot of times, what happens is that a problem will be addressed immediately by an association through litigation.

"Most builders are interested in solving the problem and taking care of the customer, and unfortunately what happens when litigation is filed is that everyone runs to their corners and no one wants to talk. What we want to do is to give both parties the option of having a way for them to discuss the problem and putting resources into solving the problem."

Wise said the bill, which has been introduced in the past two sessions but never reached a vote, would allow either party to ask for a meeting after being informed that a problem existed and litigation might be forthcoming.

After making the request, the principal developer and the homeowner or condo association would be required to meet to discuss the problem. If a solution could not be reached, the association could continue its legal process, according to Wise.

Day in court

Wise said the legislation had been opposed by the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association sessions because, in previous versions, the bill required a mandatory meeting as well as a 100-day cooling-off period before litigation could go forward.

"The key thing is we're not holding up anybody's day in court, and we're not denying anyone's day in court," Wise said, adding that he believed that the scaled-down bill would not attract the same opposition.

Castelli, meanwhile, is waiting for the final recommendations to come out of a Senate subcommittee concerning the Real Estate Licensing Reform Act, which was introduced last year but was sent to summer study and is scheduled to be reintroduced this month.

The act, according to Castelli, would be far-ranging in terms of "changing the presumption of who a real estate agent represents" as well as defining other responsibilities of agents, buyers and sellers.

"Right now you have a regulatory presumption that agents represent the sellers. And [the act] would provide a statutory presumption that agents represent buyers," Castelli said. "So that when a potential buyer walks into a real estate office or speaks with an agent on the the phone and says, 'I want to go take a look at some properties,' the agent would be presumed to be their agent. The only time when that wouldn't occur is when you are looking to sell your house, and you sign a listing agreement with an agent. At that point, the agent is the selling agent."

Castelli said that if the bill is enacted, that it would not eliminate the current two-page disclosure form.

The second aspect of the bill would require written buyer-brokerage agreements, just as there are written listing agreements. Castelli said many buyer-brokers use their own agreements, but they are not required by law.

'Vicarious liability'

The third part of the act addresses "vicarious liability." Under Maryland law, Castelli said, sellers and buyers are liable for the actions of agents and agents are liable for actions of the consumers.

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