Lawmakers call for reform of New York real estate industry

Kristin Thorne

Originally published in ABC 7 NY

New York State Senate Committees are calling for comprehensive legislation to reform the state's real estate industry after finding that Long Island real estate agents steered potential homebuyers

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- A coalition of New York State Senate Committees is calling for comprehensive legislation to reform the state's real estate industry after finding that real estate agents on Long Island steered potential home buyers to certain neighborhoods based upon the buyer's ethnicity.

The findings are part of a year-long investigation into housing discrimination on Long Island by members of three state committees.

The investigation included the review of subpoenaed documents from real estate companies and public testimony from dozens of witnesses from real estate firms and from fair housing experts.

The Senate report concluded, "The current insufficient enforcement of fair housing laws was apparent throughout the Committees' investigation."

The 97-page report, which was released on Wednesday, details specific cases of "steering" by real estate agents of potential home buyers, specifically steering black buyers to black neighborhoods and white buyers to white neighborhoods.

The investigation also uncovered how real estate agents treated white buyers differently from black and Hispanic buyers.

Senator Kevin Thomas (D-Garden City), Chair of the Consumer Protection Committee, said most of the real estate agents testified they did not believe they did anything wrong, despite being caught on camera in some cases.

"One or two realtors actually did fess up and say, 'I'm sorry,' but the rest of them just did not acknowledge any guilt whatsoever," Thomas said.

Thomas said when dozens of the agents were first asked to testify in front of the committees, they refused. They had to be subpoenaed.

In testimony from September 25, the CEO of Realty Connect USA Bart Cafarella told the committee members that after speaking with his agents, "I was satisfied that unequal treatment and racial bias or steering was not at the heart of their statements," he said. "Yet, if any of the comments recorded offended anyone, I, along with the agent in question, are truly and sincerely sorry, as it is -- certainly was not the intent."
In the report, the committee members made a series of recommendations to state agencies and lawmakers, including doing more to encourage real estate companies across New York State to open offices in communities of color and hire a more diverse sales force.

They also recommended increasing the fair housing training requirement for real estate agents and brokers from four to six hours and ensuring quality instruction, which has been lacking, they found.

Legislation has already been drafted to double the fines for fair housing violations from $1,000 to $2,000.

"The hope is to make sure the industry changes, making sure they act ethically going forward," Thomas said.

Tessa Hultz, the CEO of the Long Island Board of Realtors, said the organization supports policy recommendations that result in fair and equal access to housing opportunities.

"LIBOR is committed to protecting and furthering the principles of the Fair Housing Act," she said. "Over the past year, LIBOR developed and implemented tools and programs to help members adhere to fair housing policies at the local, state and federal levels."

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