A new opinion letter from the New York Department of State about the misuse of corporate titles by real estate agents has drawn a muted response from the city’s brokerages.
The one-and-half-page letter said the use of titles such as “vice president” was dishonest and misleading, amounting to prohibited false advertising unless the holders of real estate licenses actually were corporate officers.
“We’ll wait and see what unfolds,” Warburg President Frederick Peters told me Tuesday prior to a City Council hearing on Intro 188, which deals with co-op board practices.
Corcoran President and CEO Pamela Liebman, referring to the Real Estate Board of New York, had a similar response: “We’re waiting for REBNY’s response.”
It turns out that REBNY’s response is categorical. Neil Garfinkel, the organization’s residential counsel, put it to me this way on Wednesday: “You can’t just be slapping on titles that convey something that doesn’t exist.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Kathy Braddock, founder of Charles Rutenberg Realty, said she would ask legal counsel for guidance but expressed measured support for the opinion.
“There might be some merit to the decision because it is always good to help the consumer with as much understanding of our process as possible,” she said. “If [titles] are confusing to consumers, we should make them as aware as possible because I do think that is our job as real estate professionals.”
She added: “We’ll have to abide by whatever the law is.”
Saying he sought the state’s opinion with the assent of REBNY’s Board of Directors, Garfinkel observed that “this has been percolating for a long time.”
According to the lawyer, “It got totally out of hand.”
He noted that advertising practices are the first thing that the Department of State will consider when a consumer lodges a complaint against a broker or agent. “I definitely think there has been so much confusion in the marketplace that needed clarity.”
As an attorney who gives advice, he continued, “I just need clarity.”
Now that he and everyone else in the industry has that clarity, the question is what will happen next.
“I’m sure there’ll attach a reasonable standard to enforcement,” Garfinkel said. “There’s going to be a need for a rollout.”
Tomorrow: Weekly Roundup
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Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022