The first revision of the city real estate licensing law since 1937 will be fully implemented this fall, after getting final approvals from D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council.
A major purpose of the new legislation, which has been in the planning proceess for 10 years, is to "protect the public against incompetence, fraud and deception in real estate transactions," according to the text of the law.
The provisions tighten licensing and education requirements for real estate brokers and other workers in the real estate industry. The law also establishes for the first time in the city a guaranty and educational fund similar to those in other nearby jurisdictions. The money will be used "to compensate victims of unlawful real estate . . . practices." In addition, some of the money will be used to pay for seminars and other educational programs required for real estate industry workers by the new law, a real estate commission member said.
The law was enacted last December, but many of its requirements cannot be enforced until rules and regulations implementing it are approved by the mayor and City Council. Members of the present real estate commission will function until the regulations are implemented, according to one member, Tony Mizzer.
In putting together the new law, "the method we used was to look at other jurisdictions who have made changes in the last five years" and to seek opinions from real estate organizations, he said.
"There was a need for improvement of the old law," said Walter Scarvie, a D.C. real estate broker. "I think generally the new legislation is a pretty good law, but it has problems." Scarvie said provisions that require licensing of many members of a corporation "are not workable." Provisions that mandate licenses for property managers and permit real estate agents only to sell property are "very unusual," he said. "You could end up with dual licensing and, to take the cynical view, it could be just for revenue."
Another broker, Charles Cain, called the legislation "awfully vague" and said he feared the distribution of information about it was poor.
Elements of the law include:
* Requirements for the guaranty and educational fund, which is to be maintained within a $300,000 minimum balance and a $1.5 million maximum balance. Brokers and other industry members will be required to contribute $60 to the fund when they renew licenses. When a payment is made out of the fund, the license of the broker or other persons involved will be suspended until the fund is repaid.
The past requirement for bonding of $2,500 for brokers and $1,000 for salespersons has been elimianted.
* A major change in rules governing escrow accounts, requiring funds held more than 45 days to be deposited in a special account with interest accruing to the purchaser. In addition, the law prohibits mingling other business money with escrow funds in one account. The real estate commission has asked the mayor and City Council to approve an amendment that would require escrow funds held more than 90 days to be placed in an interest-bearing account, Mizzer said.
* A provision that makes title companies that deal in property settlements and title insurance responsbile for escrow money they hold and says that they must open their records to the real estate commission when asked to do so.
* A requirement that several types of workers in real estate--including brokers, salespersons, property managers, real estate attorneys, and sellers of vacation timeshare properties and cooperative units--must be licensed. In addition, some resident managers of rental properties must be registered with the real estate commission. In addition, licensees must fulfill more requirements, including those for education. The law also contains more requirements for obtaining a license and reasons for losing a license than the old legislation.
The $260 licensing fee remains unchanged.
* Completion of education courses every two years. The real estate commission will prescribe the types of courses and number of academic hours to be completed. Commission members will establish the educational requirements to be fulfilled by first-time applicants for licenses, and the continuing education to be required every two years for obtaining license renewal.
The real estate "profession has become so expanded and become so large that education is something that is really mandatory" for workers who must keep up with changes, Mizzer said.
* Establishment of a real estate commission composed of seven members appointed by the mayor with the consent of the City Council. The commission will meet twice monthly to set policy, approve licenses, review complaints, conduct hearings for a variety of purposes and approve educational institutions for use by real estate industry members to fulfill educational requirements in the new law.