The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM®) claimed several significant legislative victories in 2006 of benefit to its members, other commercial real estate professionals, and allied interest groups. Among the most notable of these victories (from the year-end back), achieved in collaboration with the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, are these:
•Tax Relief Bill, H.B. 611: Signed into law December 20, 2006, the bill renews several real estate related tax relief provisions that had expired in December 2005. The legislation provides for the expensing of brownfields remediation costs, the 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, and deductions for energy efficient commercial buildings.
The provision that permits expensing of costs associated with cleaning up hazardous (“brownfield”) sites will be extended through the end of 2007. The provision that addresses the 15-year recovery period for leasehold improvements will be extended through December 31, 2007 for property placed in service after December 31, 2005.
Finally, real estate owners and managers will be able to deduct for energy efficient commercial buildings that reduce annual energy and power consumption by 50% compared to the ASHRAE standard. The deduction would equal the cost of energy efficient property installed during construction, with a maximum deduction of $1.80 per square foot of the building. A partial deduction of 60¢ per square foot would be provided for building subsystems.
•Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act, H.R. 4297: Signed into law May 17, 2006, the law contains two key provisions that impact commercial real estate professionals: extended tax cuts on dividends and capital gains for an additional two years (through 2010) and extended relief (through 2006) for the middle class from the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
•Another One-Year Ban on Banks in Real Estate: In October 2006, Congress enacted the third consecutive one-year ban against the Treasury Department financing the implementation of a rule which would permit national banks to engage in real estate management and brokerage. IREM and NAR continue to lobby for a permanent ban.
•Private Property Rights Implementation Act of 2006, H.R. 4772: The House of Representatives passed the act on September 29, 2006, by a vote of 231-181. H.R. 4772 would help ensure due process for property owners when their rights have been violated and their property has been taken. The bill would clear procedural hurdles that affect property owners’ access to justice and gives them their “day in court.” Currently, property owners do not have the option of directly pursuing a Fifth Amendment claim in federal court. They first must exhaust all possible state and local administrative remedies. H.R. 4772 would shorten the process by clearly defining a final agency action, thereby eliminating a cycle of potentially endless appeals. The bill applies only to claims filed in federal court by property owners seeking relief from violations of federal statutory and Constitutional law. It would not give federal courts new authority on questions that legitimately are under state court purview.
•Pension Protection Act of 2006: Signed into law August 17, 2006, the act is the most significant pension-reform legislation since the passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It strengthens the Federal Insurance Pension System by toughening rules for businesses that offer private pension plans to their employees. It also makes it easier for employees to participate in defined contribution plans, including IRAs and 401 (k)s. Higher contribution limits for IRAs and 401(k)s have been made permanent. In addition, employees will have more information about the performance of their accounts as well as greater access to professional advice about investing for retirement. Finally, barriers that prevented companies from automatically enrolling their employees in these plans have been removed.