WASHINGTON, D.C. - The battle against mandatory telecommunications access to apartments is a major component of the 2000 joint legislative agenda recently released by the Washington, D.C.-based National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the Alexandria, Va.-based National Apartment Association (NAA). Also high on the priority list is a push for bankruptcy code reform, which the NMHC and NAA feel is needed to close a loophole that they say is used solely by some residents to live in apartments without paying rent.

NMHC president Jonathan Kempner says he is optimistic this will be a good year for the NMHC and NAA. "I think we're well-positioned to make our cases," he says. "We are by no means cocky or overconfident. Our goal is to present our positions in a clear and substantive way. That's the key: be substantive, complete and have full disclosure of the issues involved. We don't overreach. If you get too greedy, that hurts you with lawmakers."

Certainly one of the more high-profile issues the NMHC and NAA will be undertaking this year is forced access - telecommunications companies taking space within a building for the installation of equipment and wiring for free or at a low, government-established price. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering whether to issue regulations allowing forced access. The NMHC and NAA have claimed that forced access is a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the taking of private property without just compensation. It is not known when the FCC will decide whether to issue such regulations, says NMHC Vice President Jim Arbury.

The NMHC and NAA will also follow H.R. 3487, by U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, a bill that would allow forced access in buildings with multiple tenants. But Arbury points to the fact that the bill only has four co-sponsors and says he does not believe that specific bill will become law. Finally, there were rumblings late last year that President Bill Clinton would soon issue an executive order allowing forced access in federal buildings, says Arbury. However, that has yet to occur.

"I suggested [President Clinton] do it, because we believe that would demonstrate all of the problems with the idea," says Arbury. "I can't imagine all of the problems they would have in the Pentagon."

But the forced access debate will not capture all of the NMHC's and NAA's legislative attention this year. The two organizations will also keep an eye on bankruptcy reform bills moving through Congress and pursue various lower-profile issues.

A bill that addresses the organization's concerns about bankruptcy code abuse has already passed both the House and the Senate, but in different versions. A House-Senate conference committee is negotiating a final version, which the NMHC and NAA are hoping will retain their requested reforms.

Other legislative goals for 2000 include opposing rent control ordinances, clarifying the role of property management companies under the Fair Debt Collection Act and supporting efforts to deregulate the electric utility industry.

"It will be a busy year," says Kempner. "There are just so many issues out there. Some are more well-known than others, but all are important to our industry."

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. and DULLES, Va. - Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and Dulles, Va.-based America Online Inc. (AOL) have formed a strategic alliance that is designed to strengthen both corporations and bring the Internet into millions of homes. The specialized version of AOL, with links to Sears, is expected to launch later this year.

The agreement provides for AOL's interactive products and services to be marketed to Sears' customers nationwide and Sears' services to be available to AOL members and visitors. In addition, AOL plans to develop a co-branded AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to allow consumers to initiate online and real-time communications with Sears customer service as well as friends, family and business colleagues.