Real estate brokers in the state number 52,855, nearly half them in New York City.
Number of complaints filed with New York’s Department of State last year: 952.
Given what most consumers think of real estate agents and the number of times that I alone have observed violations of state law, those numbers just don’t square with reality.
There’s a simple explanation.
The Department of State — which tests and licenses brokers and agents while enforcing the law — has many more responsibilities than real estate. It is charged with the oversight of 29 categories of licensees ranging from athlete agents to barbers and from hearing aid dispensers to security guards.
And as the DOS Web site describes its role, that’s not all:
In partnership with local leaders, DOS helps municipalities reduce costs and improve services that support local economies. It manages more than $100 million in local assistance grants and provides expert guidance and training to help hundreds of communities create more efficient, vibrant, and healthier places to live and work.
In its efforts to ensure the health and life safety of all residents, the Department oversees the enforcement practices of local governments in matters pertaining to building construction, fire prevention, and energy conservation. It also. . . regulates the state’s not-for-profit cemeteries.
Through its newly acquired Division of Consumer Protection, the Department serves as the state’s top watchdog and think tank on a wide range of consumer issues from investigating questionable business practices, to product recalls, to helping citizens mitigate the consequences of identity theft.
Yet the department operates with only some 550 employees to perform all the foregoing functions.
Is it any wonder, then, that the department implicitly confessed to the Real Deal its inability to monitor effectively those of us who sell real estate?
Officials of both the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) characterized DOS as basically “reactive” with regard to enforcement.
DOS spokesman Lazaro Benitez is quoted in the article as saying he disagreed, maintaining that the Department of State does, indeed, initiate its own investigations such as randomly reviewing Web sites for compliance with advertising rules. Whether that effort amounts to an investigation certainly is debatable.
Benitez goes on to acknowledge that DOS relies primarily on complaints from consumers and other brokers to check out any violations.
In other words, we may not be able to get away with murder. But, hey, it’s easy enough to get away with false advertising or shirking our fiduciary duty to clients.
Tomorrow: Back at ya
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Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022