Fireplaces and spare the air days…or…punish homeowners who obey the law but want to sell or rent their home

FeetbytheFireplace

This is a regional interest story so please note that if you read my blog and are not in the San Francisco Bay Area. A link to the news article which provoked my interest is included in the post.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which is the air pollution control agency created in 1955 by the California Legislature, manages air quality in the 9 counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area.

During the winter (November through the end of February) and on any days in which there is a weather condition that would cause poor air flow in the district (typically high pressure which forces air to collect in the air basin as it is defined) restrictions are placed on combustion of materials (including wood). Restrictions can be a limitation or an all out ban on actual days in which a spare the air day alert is issued.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not currently a home owner so I have no vested interest in what I am about to discuss in that regard but I am an avid outdoor cooking enthusiast. I am also a resident in one of the 9 counties regulated by the BAAQMD and I am in the residential real estate business. For these reasons this topic is very important to me.

Becoming a home owner in the SF Bay Area is a challenge. We are a high cost area and folks coming here from other areas are often shocked at what they can afford in a home compared to the area they left behind. Often these folks have sold a home to get here and obtaining anything comparable is just completely out of range financially.

Another aspect of California living (and it’s accentuated in the SF Bay Area) is the progressive perspective of the state and local governments. Regulatory decisions (this is my opinion) often neglect to consider the impact on individuals. Just because something is the right thing to do, doesn’t necessarily mean the implementation is correct.

A theme that has been fairly consistent in this regard is that a homeowner is a wealthy person and frequently targeted to absorb the cost associated with doing something good whether that be environmental, political, civil, etc. Homeowners are targeted to pay for municipal improvements through property tax increases. Investment property owners must adhere to rent restrictions, abuse of of the ADA by tenants, etc.

Please do not misunderstand me. I live in the real world. I know there are slumlords just like I know there are tenants who will take every chance possible to screw a landlord. Neither should happen. Just because someone has chosen to build their wealth using real estate as a vehicle does not mean they are unscrupulous, just like a person needing section 8 rental assistance doesn’t make them a deadbeat. If it weren’t for the property owner willing to accept the tenant that is in need of help that program wouldn’t work.

Now to my point. This article in the San Jose Mercury News is about the BAAQMD working to force the cost of eliminating or retrofitting wood burning fireplaces onto sellers and landlords as a point of sale or point of lease requirement. To me this feels like the slippery slope of progressive regulation. It started in 1955 with “it’s your air and you should be concerned about it” and has become hard line regulatory enforcement and elimination of choice. It doesn’t matter if you obey the law regarding days you cannot burn or are limited, you won’t get a choice if the BAAQMD is able to make this law. Oh, and guess what? Want to rent that house that has a wood burning fireplace that you bought as an investment with your hard earned money and that only barely breaks even right now but will pay off 10 years from now when you have paid down your mortgage, managed the property well in terms of maintenance, kept quality tenants in it, and made sure the rents are fair but at market value? Well you just might have to invest a few thousand dollars to retrofit or make that fireplace in operable just to place a tenant. That cost could represent a multiple year delay in your return on the investment.

Want to sell your home? It may cost you a few thousand dollars to so the same thing.

I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on this regardless of your position. I don’t think it’s the right way to address the problem (if we even have one based on the data from the article).

Thanks for reading.

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