2023 Year in Advocacy Review

December 13, 2023

- By The MAR Legal Team

2023 was a banner year by any metric for MAR advocacy success. Here’s the rundown: 

Fighting Rent Control and Transfer Taxes 

2023 saw the rise in two significant threats to housing in Massachusetts – rent control and transfer taxes. The former was proposed as part of a sweeping ballot question to be included on the 2024 election ballot. Fortunately, supporters fell significantly short of the required signatures to reach the ballot. However, we anticipate this issue will return, likely with greater organization and funding for the 2026 election cycle. In the meantime, we continue to oppose several bills before the Legislature. Read more about the ballot question campaign and watch our testimony opposing rent control bills here. 

Transfer taxes have now risen to the fore as progressive housing advocates’ top target. Proposals would place a significant burden on the housing market, even those on “luxury housing,” which would put more expensive homes further out of reach and apply greater pressure on homes priced beneath them. We have identified extensive problems with transfer taxes as a policy measure and continue to make our case to the Legislature. Recently, the Office of Housing and Livable Communities, included a transfer tax proposal in its housing bond bill, increasing the risk this policy poses to the Commonwealth. Watch our testimony opposing transfer taxes and stay tuned for more on this topic in 2024. 

Tax Relief 

In early October, the Governor signed the state’s first tax cuts in more than 20-years. MAR successfully advocated for millions in housing-related tax relief. Here’s a breakdown of relevant items: 

  • Doubled property tax relief for low-income senior property owners 
  • 33% increase in tax credits for renters 
  • 50% increase for the low-income housing tax credit 
  • Good landlord tax credit, allowing municipalities to provide property tax discounts of up to 100% to landlords who provide below-market rents 
  • Doubled lead paint abatement tax credits 
  • Doubled septic system repair and replacement tax credits 
  • Funded a $57 million backlog and tripled the annual cap (from $10 to $30 million) for the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), which creates market rate housing in Gateway cities 
  • $2 million increase in the estate tax exemption 
  • 30% decrease in the short-term capital gains rate 


FY2024 Budget Supports Housing 

Much of the first half of the year was spent on the FY2024 budget. It was the first opportunity for the new administration to make good on campaign promises and another chance for the Legislature to continue their significant housing funding increases of the last several years. Both branches delivered with funding and policy measures that will make a difference. MAR successfully supported the following items that were included in the FY2024 budget: 

  • Crumbling concrete foundation prevention – Helping homeowners afflicted with crumbling concrete foundations was one of MAR’s priority issues for REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill in June. The budget does that in two ways, by increasing funding for the state’s foundation testing program and, most importantly, creating a quarry testing and licensing program to make sure that this problem stops now. We will continue advocating for assistance for homeowners already facing this problem. 
  • Increased funding for housing assistance – the Legislature has continued its long-term commitment to providing housing assistance for those in need. Several line items received significant year-over-year funding increases, including the RAFT program (25%), state housing voucher program (16%), emergency shelters (48%), and local housing authorities (16%). 
  • Extending brownfield redevelopment tax credits – The budget provides a five-year extension for the redevelopment brownfields sites that are or may be contaminated. This program, which would have expired this year without the extension, is a proven stimulator of growth and improves community economic vitality.       

See also – Supplemental Budget Includes Several MAR Priorities (May 2023) 

Supporting Home Equity 

In late October, MAR testified in support of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (H.1744). The bill increases procedural protections for people who inherit property outside of a will. Most notably, these protections include using an open-market sale with a real estate licensee to maximize the financial return for a home should a sale be required. We also believe this concept merits consideration for other court-ordered home sales, such as those related to municipal liens for unpaid taxes. For more information, see Town of Tyngsborough v. Recco in the Judicial Advocacy section below. Watch MAR and coalition partners testify in support of the UPHPA. 

Local Advocacy  

In addition to our advocacy with statewide stakeholders, we also work with local associations on issues in cities and towns. Here are two issues that rose to the fore in 2023: 

  • MBTA Communities Compliance – MAR worked with local associations to help facilitate compliance with the new MBTA Communities law, which requires 177 cities and towns to change their zoning allowing for more density near transit stations. Read more about this new law here. 
  • Nitrogen Sensitive Areas – throughout the first half of the year, we provided feedback to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) on draft regulations to decrease nitrogen pollution on the south coast, Cape Cod and islands by potentially requiring homeowners to install new septic systems that cost upwards of $30,000. The final regulations included several changes related to our comments including most notably limiting the program’s geographic reach and significantly increasing the lookback period for prior system upgrades as a means of safe harbor from new requirements. Read more about the proposal and access MAR’s comments here. 


Judicial Advocacy 

MAR also advocates through the judicial process, often through so-called amicus briefs in which we provide the court with industry-specific information. In 2023, MAR filed amicus briefs in four cases:  

Protecting buyer agency – In Biping Huang vs. Jin Ma, real estate broker Biping Huang alleged that her former clients breached an oral exclusive buyer’s agency agreement by purchasing a home with another agent. The appeals court struggled with whether Huang was entitled to her commission and considered whether there should be a “clear statement rule” requiring the contract to state that a commission would be owed upon a breach of the agreement. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court accepted the case to ultimately decide what remedy should be available to the broker. MAR’s brief argued that this dispute, like any other contract dispute, should be handled under long-established rules entitling the aggrieved party (in this case broker Huang) to the benefit of their bargain. In this case, because the homebuyers breached an exclusive buyer agency agreement, Huang’s could rightfully be entitled to the commission she would have received had the homebuyers not broken the agreement. The state’s highest court agreed, extensively citing MAR’s brief in oral argument and their decision. This case also highlights the importance of written buyer agency agreements. Despite this court win, the broker still faces a significant challenge, to prove the existence of their oral contract before they will be able to recover any possible commission.  Read more about this case and access our brief as well as the court’s decision 

Preventing blight and expanded REALTOR® liability – In Hill-Junious vs. UTP Realty LLC, a patron was murdered outside of a nightclub shortly after the property changed hands and there had been several incidents at the club under the prior owner. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court requested amicus briefs on whether a commercial landlord’s duty to prevent reasonably foreseeable criminal acts encompassed a duty to learn of criminal acts that occurred prior to their purchase of the property. MAR provided a brief explaining that such a duty would have a harmful impact on properties in lower-income neighborhoods and potentially also harm property owners and real estate professionals by exposing them to liability.  

The court’s decision focused on the facts of the case, finding that the sudden, unanticipated murder was not a risk that the landlord had the ability to prevent or could have reasonably foreseen, even with knowledge of prior acts of violence at the property, and therefore the landlord had no duty to the plaintiff. Importantly, the Court did not make any sweeping decision that would have required potential purchasers or their real estate agents to investigate prior crimes committed at the property.  Read more about this case and access our brief as well as the court’s decision. 

Defending affordable housing – In Carroll v. Norwell, the town of Norwell designated land for affordable housing purposes in 2004. Over the next seventeen years, the town took several steps to prepare for potential future affordable housing development on the land. In 2021, when the town was finally closing in on development, abutters succeeded in passing a town meeting petition to revert the land to conservation uses. Our brief made legal arguments that the Town had sufficiently reserved the land for affordable housing uses that could not be overridden by the town meeting vote. In addition, it chastised the town for its long refusal to build affordable housing or engage residents on explaining its importance. Norwell, the brief explains, is representative of many Massachusetts towns, and thus it is especially important to make sure land reserved for affordable housing development maintains that status, otherwise we will see more attempts by NIMBY neighbors to block housing similar to this case. A decision is forthcoming, in the meantime, read MAR’s brief here. 

Protecting home equity – In Town of Tyngsborough v. Recco, we responded to a request from the Land Court to provide feedback on the issue of home equity theft. Specifically, the Court asked for ideas on how it should handle municipal property tax delinquency following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared the law in Massachusetts, and a dozen other states, unconstitutional. Prior to that case, municipalities in Massachusetts were allowed to foreclose on properties for unpaid debts and keep all sale proceeds, including amounts beyond the debt owed. The Supreme Court decided that this practice amounted to an unconstitutional taking of homeowner equity. We are now advocating for a legislative fix to create a constitutional framework in Massachusetts. However, in the meantime, the Courts are looking for ways to resolve these cases in line with the Supreme Court holding. Our brief, filed with Pacific Legal Foundation, the originators of the Supreme Court case on this topic, argues that the Land Court lacks authority to adequately resolve the case and should thus request assistance from a higher state court. It also makes a plea for a legislative fix and urges any resolution to give property owners time and options, especially for an open-market sale using a real estate licensee to maximize home value rather than an auction sale where homes typically sell for a fraction of their open-market value. Read our brief here