Real Estate & Law: A Look Back at 2019 and a Look Ahead

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Over the course of 2019, there were so many pieces of newly enacted substantive laws that control the sales, rentals and litigation landscape of real estate. If we recapped each of these new 2019 laws, this article would likely span well over 50 pages. Yet, it is imperative that we all learn about these laws, because law is what controls our lives, livelihood and society.

My career is divided between managing a law firm, litigating on behalf of my clients and training real estate brokers to comply with the laws of their field. During 2019, I again and again was faced with a particularly acute dismissal of many of the laws that control our lives, from brokers, my litigation clients and even the purchasers and sellers who worked with my firm. This saddens me. It does not sadden me that individuals disagree with the law, because that is healthy and constructive. Instead, it saddens me that individuals believe they do not need to follow a law that they disagree with. Remember, a law is what it is until it’s not. I share with you some highlights of the extraordinary changes to the law.

Chief among the new 2019 real estate laws were new rental laws, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, which was enacted by way of a 74-page, single-spaced bill that changed the rental landscape throughout the state as we know it. This bill addressed rent regulated units, market rate units, conversions of rental units into owned units, and mobile parks. It is responsible for capping prepaid rent at one month, preventing landlords, and their agents, from employing many strategies to screen tenants, creating security deposit inspection and refund rules, providing a path for rent regulations to be enacted in new communities throughout the state, and so much more.

Beyond the new rental law typhoon, we had advances in housing discrimination laws and a renewed consciousness about the seriousness of these laws. First, there was a new statewide law that offered protection to tenants from being denied housing based upon their lawful source of income, which is the number one reason that housing discrimination claims exist in many communities where it was previously applicable. As a result, the act of demanding a W2 from a prospective tenant is an act of discrimination because it causes working to be a prerequisite to renting. Beyond new discrimination laws, we had a renewed focus on discrimination claims. We started the year with the #MeToo movement and ended it with Newsday‘s findings of their three-year investigation, “Long Island Divided.” Now, congressional hearings are underway to combat racial steering in our communities and further protections are expected in the decade ahead.

Beyond laws about rentals and discrimination, 2019 also offered a bill that protected reverse mortgage borrowers by specifically requiring that such borrowers are afforded legal representation when closing on these loans. There was a law that gave disabled tenants the opportunity to cancel their leases if they needed to move into an assisted living facility. There was a law to protect domestic violence victims from being evicted if they called the police for self-protection from their abusers. This past year brought a new deed transfer notice law that provides for notice to the owner whenever a deed transfer is filed with the County Clerk so that homeowners can know if a fraudster is in the lurks. There was the LLC disclosure requirement, so that transacting parties could no longer hide behind a Limited Liability Company and pretend that they weren’t the terrible sellers who flipped the house with ticky-tacky rather than nails.

The list of new laws goes on and on and on. Yet, these laws don’t explain 2019 and what this past year was all about–2019 was about politics, plain and simple. We had impeachment, and nothing else seemed to matter. No, impeachment isn’t a real estate law, nor did impeachment directly impact real estate law, but the polarized political landscape that swooped in with the impeachment hearings has affected everything.

As a society, our political climate has never been more charged. Politics has caused each of us to forget the distinction between our respect for the rule of law and our vision for a more perfect union. We have forgotten that following existing law is not a choice but, instead, an obligation with serious repercussions.

Yes, our opinions matter, and we should all be active in politics so that we can have our voices heard. We should write politicians, lobby and even run for office. However, during this past year we were charged to label anything that we disagree with as “fake news” and to challenge the legitimacy of laws or risk being labelled as traitors to our tribe, whether it be Democrat or Republican.

Please understand that this issue is not particular to either political party, but instead it is an issue of the tribal politics under which we now operate as a whole society. We now hear everything through a lens of evaluation where we must first take a position as to whether we agree with it as right or disagree with it as wrong before we decide if we have an obligation to follow it as a binding law of the land. Make no mistake, following only the laws that we agree with is very dangerous. It is very dangerous for individuals, in their personal lives, when they believe that their opinion matters more than it does, and this is particularly dangerous when those opinions are with respect to the legitimacy of laws that control our lives, including real estate laws.

So, as we bring in 2020, I ask one thing. Respect the laws that were made by those who you oppose. Respect those laws because the legitimacy of the law that you support demands that your opposition also gives your laws respect. For if we stop respecting laws, what do we have?

Andrew M. Lieb, Esq., MPH, is the managing attorney of Lieb at Law P.C. and a contributing writer for Behind the Hedges.