For as long as anyone can remember, REALTORS® in the state of Delaware have paid licensing fees at the municipal level, a fee extending beyond the state licensing requirements that REALTORS® fully support.
Political subdivisions required additional business licenses of anyone listing property for sellers or representing property buyers. It seemed that the highly visible nature of their business made REALTORS® an easy target.
“Other professional service providers, such as insurance agents, were not being assessed a fee for operating in multiple districts” explained Sara Elalamy, Government Affairs Director and Chief Lobbyist of the Delaware REALTORS® (DAR).
For at least 12 years, the association’s Public Policy Committee had been talking to lawmakers about the unfairness of this requirement. The answer was always the same: The legislature would never agree to depriving municipalities of revenue.
A lack of government transparency meant that the REALTORS® didn’t even know which municipalities required the additional license to do business within their borders, let alone what kind of numbers were at stake. The key to solving the problem was straight-forward research and member engagement.
First, Elalamy called all 57 cities and towns in the state, unearthing 27 that were collecting the extra licensing fee. Requests by staff for data from these municipalities under the Freedom of Information Act revealed data that was surprising to all involved.
“Legislators had assumed we’d been talking about a million dollars, at least,” explained DAR’s 2019 President Beau Zebley. “To be honest, we thought it would be a significant number too. But, in fact, these fees have never exceeded $100,000 a year across 27 municipalities!”
While that revenue number was small, the burden to individual Delaware REALTORS®, who already pay business taxes to the state, averaged $2,600 per year, against the average annual income of about $39,000.
In the 2019 session, REALTORS® from across the state worked with Representative Bill Bush (D), a newly elected legislator, to pass HB 235: Elimination of Municipal Business Licenses for REALTORS® in Delaware. Desite strong resistance from the League of Local Governments, the new legislation passed in both the House and the Senate, where it was sponsored by the president pro-tempore and won support from a solid two-thirds majority.
“It was an amazing team effort,” says Elalamy.
Zebley agrees. “Our members played a huge role in getting this done. They responded in force to our Calls for Action, contacting their representatives in the House and Senate and mobilizing on social media. Our Public Policy Committee and RPAC team all did a great job, using their relationships with legislators to get the common-sense message across,” Zebley added.
On July 23, 2019, Governor John Carney signed the bill into law. It will take effect in July 2020, freeing Delaware’s REALTORS® from the onerous double-licensing fees.
To learn more about how the Delaware REALTORS® have eliminated a longstanding unfair licensing fee required by many local municipalities, contact Government Affairs Director and Chief Lobbyist Sara Elalamy, at 443-567-8319.