By Dave Emanuel
Like a bad penny, legislation that will ultimately reduce residential property values returns with each new session of the Georgia legislature. For 2023, the assault on property values is HB 517 which is an egregious attempt to preempt local government. Clearly, HB 517 was instigated by builders, developers and real estate companies that want a free hand in building, selling, and renting houses built to minimum standards.
HB 517 is laughably labeled the “Georgia Homeowner Opportunity Act”. It would be more accurate to label it the “Georgia Builder Profit Opportunity Act”. You have to wonder why the Georgia legislature regularly approves new Georgia cities yet, even more frequently introduces bills to preempt local government’s ability to maintain building standards that are above the minimum.
As with the similar bills of the past, HB 517 is a smoke and mirrors attempt to hoodwink the public. When HB 302 was introduced in 2019, it was promoted as property owner rights legislation. When that didn’t gain any traction, it was reintroduced in the 2020 session as an affordable housing measure. Now it’s been reintroduced in a more ruinous form as HB 517 and being called “Homeowner Opportunity” legislation.
HB 517 was authored by Representative Dale Washburn of House District (HD) 144 (Macon) and is sponsored by a number of metro-Atlanta representatives including Debra Bazemore HD 69, South Fulton, Marvin Lim HD98 Norcross, Gregg Kennard HD 101 Lawrenceville, Terry Cummings HD 39 Mableton and David Clark HD 100 Buford.
It comes as no surprise that according to his campaign disclosure filing, (https://efile.ethics.ga.gov/#/exploreDetails/gYiyY9P3x58s9JWHk4JeM5P4048PFnxLXRUfdOLcQk01/14/20617/371/2024) during the past 2 years, most of the largest contributors to Representative Washburn’s campaign fund were builder, developer or real estate groups. Among them, the Georgia Association of Realtors Political Action Committee ($6000), Georgians for Quality Housing Options PAC ($3000), American Homes 4 Rent ($7500), Resibuilt Homes LLC ($1500). This isn’t to imply that Washburn has done anything illegal, it’s just always informative when you follow the money.
As written, HB 517 states, “No county or municipal corporation shall adopt or enforce any ordinance or regulation relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one- or two-family dwellings except under one or more of the following circumstances:” The “circumstances” apply to structures that are in designated as historic or located in designated historic districts and to regulations that require meeting minimum state standards.
HB 517 specifies building design elements as:
(A) Exterior building color;
(B) Type or style of exterior cladding material;
(C) Style or materials of roof structures or porches;
(D) Exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation;
(E) Location or architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors;
(F) The number and types of rooms;
(G) The interior layout of rooms;
(H) Types of foundation structures approved under state minimum standard codes;
(I) Covered parking;
(J) Structural square footage minimums greater than 1,200 square feet;
(K) Lot size minimums that are greater than:
(i) What is required by the rules and regulations of the Department of Public Health for on-site sewage management systems without public sewerage;
(ii) The requirements of Code Section 12-5-134 without public water; or
(iii) One-half acre with both public water and public sewerage; and
(L) Lot width minimums or road frontage minimums.
If HB 517 were to pass, it would be permissible for anyone to build a 1,200 square foot building with no windows and a flat roof in a residential neighborhood. Consequently, any residential property owner could find himself/herself living next door to a house that has the appearance of a cinder block warehouse.
To make matters worse, the structure could be painted any color or left unpainted and any form of architectural ornamentation could adorn the outside. Picture the most offensive mural or ornament you can imagine. Then picture that on the outside of your neighbor’s house where you would see it every day. HB 517 would allow such displays and prevent local government from having any control of them.
While the bill specifically prohibits local governments from regulating or enforcing building design elements, it recognizes the importance of state minimum standards. However, it provides no means for any type of enforcement of those standards. Any enforcement would have to be done by state agencies- agencies that have neither the budget, nor the personnel, nor the desire to be the enforcement arm of 159 counties and 538 incorporated cities. With no enforcement, there is no mechanism to assure that one-family and two-family buildings are properly constructed, safe, and inhabitable.
Proponents of HB 517 will argue that the legislation is needed because local jurisdiction ordinances infringe on individual property rights. The problem with HB 517 is that it infringes on individual property rights. By permitting any type of structure to be constructed anywhere zoned for single-family and two-family houses, and by allowing any exterior building color and decoration, the bill infringes on the rights of neighboring property owners as it will reduce value and salability of those properties.
If state representatives are honestly interested in creating “Homeowner Opportunity”, as opposed to pandering to builders, developers and real estate agencies, they will vote no on HB 517.