Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Irem Government Affairs Holds Steady Course in Midst of Change

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Irem Government Affairs Holds Steady Course in Midst of Change

Article excerpt

With a new president in office, one might think that government affairs professionals are retooling their strategies for a new direction. You'd be wrong. But maintaining a steady course doesn't mean there are no new concerns, and IREM's Government Affairs team at Chicago headquarters is set to tackle them.

By its very definition, IREM's Government Affairs strategy must remain a constant. "The basic purpose is to serve as a reliable source for two audiences," said Ron Gjerde, vice president of Government Affairs and Content Services. "The first is public policymakers, who we provide with factual, accurate information on how their decisions will impact our industry and the population in general."

The second audience, obviously, is the IREM constituency and the larger industry, keeping all parties informed "about what's going on with policymakers so they can mobilize as necessary." The consistency of that messaging overrides any changes either inside or outside the Beltway, Gjerde said.

If there is a challenge related to any new regime, it's dealing with staff changes at governmental and quasi-governmental agencies. "Obviously, when a new administration comes in, they like to install their own people," said Beth Wanless, Government Affairs senior manager. "So, many current staffers will be leaving and pursuing other professional opportunities."

The challenge is in a very real sense to start almost from scratch and re-introduce IREM and its causes to a new crop of people and personalities such as within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "We need to re-establish those very valuable relationships," Wanless noted.

Always, of course, there are the major legislative issues of the day, two of which are particular hot-button items on the IREM agenda. The first is the sweeping tax reform President Trump has been promising. Within this piece of proposed legislation so critical to real estate management and investment, "We need to know what they'll do, how it'll impact our members and if members need to hire more people to account for some of these tax and accounting changes," said Wanless, who anticipates draft legislation in the near future.

But while a draft might be soon in coming, Wanless doesn't see any sort of resolution before 2018 at the earliest. And how much will Trump's real estate DNA help the industry? Even if he sticks to his roots, "the question is if he and Congress can think alike," she stated, ticking off the many areas where tax reform could go south, including carried interest, 1031 exchanges and eliminating depreciation deductions.

Needless to say, this early in the game, the IREM team is watching new developments very closely. "It's at the top of our priority list," said Wanless.

Running a close second is legislation that IREM has already championed reform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In particular, the focus is on "drive-by lawsuits," explained Wanless, "where an attorney licensed in multiple states will simply drive by a property, and if the site is lacking, even in the placement of signage, they'll send a demand letter of thousands of dollars, without even giving our members the opportunity to repair the violation."

A recent membership survey revealed that "an overwhelming majority of members have experienced this practice by the same attorneys on the same properties," said Wanless, who expressed optimism over passage of drive-by-related ADA changes in the near future. She emphasized that, despite some common misconceptions, this reform measure doesn't in any way diminish the rights and protections of people with disabilities, but would only put a stop to frivolous lawsuits. …

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