Fortunately, there are remedies and protections for the targeted homeowners: Non-solicitation and cease-and-desist orders can be issued and strict penalties can be imposed upon those who violate these orders. A non-solicitation order is issued by the New York Secretary of State, after a public hearing and reasonable investigation. It directs all licensed real estate brokers and salespeople to refrain from soliciting property listings within a designated area. A non-solicitation rule may prohibit any or all forms of solicitation; it states the day, month and year that the order will take effect and when it will expire; it can be in effect for no more than five years.
A cease-and-desist zone may be established by rule of the Secretary of State; it can last for up to five years although it may be extended thereafter. It lists specific individuals within a specific geographic area who have petitioned the Secretary of State for relief from solicitation by real estate agents or by others who regularly engage in the trade or business of buying and selling real estate. After establishment of the cease-and-desist zone, residential property owners within the zone may file an owner’s statement with the Secretary of State, who will compose a list of these owners, including the addresses of their properties. The list shall be updated at least annually and be made available to the public and to real estate agents at a reasonable price.
No real estate brokerage may establish either a principal or branch office within the area of the nonsolicitation order without the approval of the Secretary of State. In our village, the village board and the village attorney have acted swiftly. The real estate brokerage has already been warned that it is in violation of various laws. The village code covering residential solicitation is in the process of being changed in order to prohibit such illegal practices and to list stiff penalties for violations. A formal complaint has been sent to the Department of Justice. Residents have been told to document violations and to convey details of the violation to the village hall. Residents can post a No Solicitation sign at the edge of their properties, clearly visible to anyone who seeks to enter our premises.
There are penalties for violation of non-solicitation and cease-and-desist rules. Under the New York State Real Property Law, Article 12A, the New York Secretary of State may revoke or suspend a salesperson’s or broker’s license. Under our proposed village code, convicted violators shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1000 and/or a jail sentence not to exceed six months.
Under the New York City Human Rights Law, people convicted of violating the law shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. Civil remedies may result in damages awarded to plaintiffs: the amount of any gains (profits, commissions etc.) exclusive of any expenses incurred by defendants, plus attorney’s fees and court costs; even if the defendant has not realized any gains, an amount equal to the difference between the price for which plaintiff sold his property and the fair market value at the time the action is commenced, plus attorney’s fees and court costs, may be awarded to the plaintiff.
As a broker, I caution people not to allow an agent into their homes unless the homeowner is actually interested in selling. For example, even if you have not listed your home with the agent but the agent enters your home and brings a prospective buyer with him, the agent may be creating an implied listing and may demand (successfully or unsuccessfully) a commission if the prospective buyer actually buys the house! If you are curious and want to know what your home is worth, and you don’t want to deal with a real estate agent, then you can hire a licensed appraiser to determine the market value of your home.
Remember: If you, like me, are the target of blockbusting attempts, do not panic! You do not have to sell your home! Blockbusting tactics are so obvious that you can easily identify them and not be so credulous as to believe what you are told by someone who clearly seeks to frighten you into selling. As stated above, there are remedies for violations of the laws. But they only work if you complain to the proper authorities so that the violators can be appropriately punished and enjoined to discontinue their illegal practices.
By Vivian J. Oleen, Associate Broker, Sopher Realty