Although four major bills recently made it out of committee at the State Capitol, Realtors are frustrated by what they see as a lack of eminent domain-related legislation.

Eminent domain has been a topic of legislation across the country since last year’s Supreme Court decision that ruled New London could take homes to make way for a private development, and Connecticut joined the wave of states putting their own spin on the issue during its spring legislative session.

But many Realtors are not pleased with the lack of eminent domain-related bills that came out of the Legislature last month. Although four major bills made it out of committee, none was voted on by either the House of Representatives or the Senate, according to Tim Calnen, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Association of Realtors.

The lack of bills regarding eminent domain – which most Realtors believe should be carefully watched so it does not impede personal property rights – was one of the big disappointments of the session, Calnen said.

“[There was] no significant response on the eminent domain issue,” he said.

The issue was addressed in the bill on the state budget. Instead of instating new rules or regulations, a section of the legislation creates a new position in the state government: the ombudsman for property rights. The person will inform members of the public of their rights pertaining to eminent domain, advise public agencies about any actions that have potential eminent domain implications, mediate eminent domain disputes and recommend changes to the General Assembly pertaining to eminent domain laws.

CAR did not take a formal position on that bill, although many Realtors opined it would do little more than increase the size of the government.

But after a series of public hearings at which CAR members testified, the lack of new eminent domain laws was a letdown, Calnen said. He noted that one piece of legislation, Senate Bill 665, was not perfect, but had the support of many Realtors. It would have ensured that the benefit to the public of taking private property must outweigh the benefit to the private entity. It also would have outright prohibited the seizing of private property just to increase tax revenue.

In addition, the bill would have allowed some property owners to repurchase property taken from them by eminent domain if the land is not used for a public use and is subsequently resold. It would have required appraisals in eminent domain proceedings to be conducted by state-licensed real estate appraisers in accordance with uniform standards, required the consent of the parties before a court could appoint a judge trial referee to review a statement of compensation in an eminent domain proceeding, increased the maximum payments for relocation assistance and revised the standards used by local legislative bodies prior to authorizing the use of eminent domain.

Other Bills
CAR also pushed for several other bills. One would have required municipalities to send notices to the public about land-use actions that would affect them. Representatives from town governments found the bill too onerous, however, so supporters of the bill negotiated a different way of notification. In the bill that passed, citizens may sign up for a registry, and the municipality will send notifications about land-use actions to those people.

Although the bill is better than nothing, Calnen said, CAR believes towns have an innate obligation to send notice to people immediately affected by such actions.

CAR officials were disappointed that legislators did not allow a long-controversial conveyance tax to end. In 2003, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing municipalities to increase their conveyance taxes. The increases were supposed to last 15 months and sunset in June 2004, but the Legislature has continued to extend it.

Meanwhile, affordable housing advocates are pleased with several bills that passed during the 85-day session, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The state housing tax credit was doubled, and there were increases in state rental subsidies and security deposit guarantees.

The budget passed by the Legislature increases credits available through the Connecticut Housing Tax Credit Contribution Program from $5 million to $10 million annually, including a $2 million set-aside for supportive housing and a $1 million set-aside for workforce housing.

The state’s Rental Assistance Program received a $1.8 million increase, after an increase of the same amount last year. That brings its annual budget to $15.9 million – enough to serve over 1,800 households.

Legislators also added $250,000 to the Security Deposit Guarantee Program, which will equal about $1 million in additional security deposits because the state does not actually pay a security deposit but provides a guarantee to the landlord.