By Steve Brown, First Vice President, National Association of REALTORS®
When people think of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), they usually think of our issues advocacy with the Legislative and Executive branches. But the truth is NAR also works with the Judicial Branch when needed.
Standing up for the rights of property owners is one of NAR’s critical missions. Sometimes that means going all the way to the highest court in the land. Not long ago, NAR joined a dozen other associations in submitting what’s called a “friend-of-the-court” brief to the Supreme Court of the United States.
When NAR heard the story of Chantell and Mike Sackett from Priest Lake, Idaho, it seemed like, in this instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had gone too far.
Here’s what happened:
Four years ago, the Sacketts bought less than an acre of land sitting in the middle of a developed subdivision, complete with a sewer infrastructure. The couple had obtained local building permits and even a verbal okay from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the property, which periodically has water on it, was not a wetlands.
As soon as the Sacketts started to build their home, EPA officials, citing the Clean Water Act, ordered them to stop and restore the property to its original condition and monitor the property because they hadn’t obtained a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. If they didn’t comply, they could be fined as much as $32,500 a day!
Then, the EPA said that the Sacketts could not challenge the EPA’s order because they had not been charged with noncompliance, and prior to that the agency’s orders are not subject to judicial review.
NAR and others filed a brief, arguing that the Sacketts were denied due process because they couldn’t contest the EPA’s order without violating it and facing serious or substantial penalties for non- compliance, or alternatively, seeking a permit, which is a lengthy and potentially expensive process.
After considering the case, the Supreme Court handed the Sacketts, and private property owners, a victory. It ruled that property owners may contest in court EPA compliance orders like the one issued to the Sacketts without having to first violate that order. This means the Sacketts can now appeal the EPA ruling. Finally, they get their day in court.
This is just one case, but be assured that NAR will not rest. We will continue to be proactive in all three branches of government, protecting the dream of home ownership in every way we can.