Along with the new year comes another slate of new federal, state and municipal laws, several of which are aimed at improving -- or at least regulating -- what goes on in and around our homes, ranging from switching on a light to lighting up a joint. While the biggest changes are arguably from rules designed to protect consumers from predatory mortgage lending as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, there are many others that potentially will hit us where we live. And even those that might not be taking effect close to home in 2014 might one day reach us if they're viewed as successful -- especially at generating revenue.
NEW LAWS FOR 2014:
Under Dodd-Frank, on Jan. 10 mortgage lenders are given more responsibility for making sure that borrowers have the ability to repay loans. The eight areas subject to more scrutiny by lenders are borrowers' income or assets; employment; projected monthly mortgage payments; payments on other loans; other monthly mortgage-related costs; other debts, alimony and child support; debt-to-income ratio or residual income; and credit history. Lenders are also banned from charging upfront fees or points greater than 3 percent of the loan and for selling mortgages that include negative amortization; interest-only periods; terms longer than 30 years; and rapidly increasing "balloon" payments.
Though some property owners have been affected already, many more who've been buying federally subsidized flood insurance will likely see their rates go higher, and in some cases multiply -- unless a bipartisan effort to postpone the increases gains more traction in Congress. And those property owners would be joined by many others in newly designated flood-prone zones.
Incandescent light bulbs of 40 watts or more are headed for the collectibles market as they're banned from being manufactured, starting in 2014. For an equivalent amount of light, the alternatives include the now-familiar CFLs and the more recent vintage (and more expensive) LEDs.
After a three-year transition period that redefined what "lead-free" means, on Jan. 4, 2014, the maximum amount of lead that can be in newly installed plumbing products that carry drinking water is reduced from 8% to 0.25%.
The legalization of cannabis in Colorado means that starting in 2014 a resident can cultivate up to six marijuana plants consisting of "three or fewer being mature flowering plants ... provided that the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space, is not conducted openly or publicly, and is not made for sale." (So leave the cannabis out of your curb-appeal landscaping.) However, it will be permitted to smoke marijuana on your front porch in Denver despite recent efforts there to ban that. But on the flip side, Colorado property owners can also bar others from growing or even possessing marijuana on their property.
Advocates for landlords and tenants in New Hampshire have combined to come up with a way to get rid of the bedbugs first and figure out who bears the cost later. Landlords will be responsible for acting to eliminate the pests within a week of being informed by tenants of a bedbug problem, and landlords will pay initially. But if the renters are found to be responsible for the bugs, they might have to reimburse landlords for the eradication. The new rules are designed to counter the kind of landlord-tenant dispute that can lead to further infestation as it drags through court, reports The Associated Press.
In California, businesses other than utility companies must get the consent of individual consumers before being allowed to share data about customers' energy use that was collected from smart meters. Even if the non-utilities are able to gain consent, though, they'll need to take appropriate measures to keep the data secret from unauthorized users.
Texas will require the fingerprinting of those applying for or renewing licenses as architects, as part of a criminal-background check. It will be the only U.S. state with such a requirement, according to The Architects Newspaper. The reason? David Lancaster, senior advocate of Texas Society of Architects told the paper that "the legislature became convinced that if there was an individual licensed by the state who had access to someone's kids, to their house, to their money, or to drugs or explosives, then steps needed to be taken to do a more thorough background check."