Boro residents back curbs on pushy real estate agents

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The cease and desist program, a 1989 amendment to the state's Real Property Law, enables homeowners to place their names on a do-not-solicit list, indicating to real estate brokers and agents that these residents do not want to be contacted about selling their homes.

The entire borough is designated a cease and desist zone, but the program is reviewed every five years and is due to expire Sept. 1 if the state decides not to renew it.

If real estate agents are found in violation of the cease and desist law, they would either have to pay a fine or see a judge or they could get their license revoked, depending on the number of complaints and offenses, according to clerk Norma Rosario at the Department of State. The fine is a minimum of $500 per address.

Many borough civic association leaders came to the hearing, representing homeowners from Ozone Park, Hillcrest Estates, Douglaston, Bellerose, Jamaica Estates and Glen Oaks.

Some delivered personal testimonies about what they called intimidating and annoying phone and mail solicitation tactics by real estate agents. Known as "blockbusting," these tactics include dropping hints that minority residents moving into a neighborhood or other demographic changes would lower home values.

Eliott Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, testified that solicitations "tend to follow the sale of a particular house" in certain neighborhoods. "Most people here believe these solicitations are intrusive, defiant and disturbing," he said. These agents do it "simply to make a commission, with little to no concern for those who live in the community."

Borough President Helen Marshall's chief of staff, Ellen Rosa, read a statement from Marshall supporting the continuation of the program. "Queens in particular has been impacted by blockbusting" by aggressive real estate agents, Marshall wrote.

"With new immigrants arriving from around the world everyday, our demographics continue to change. By necessity our communities are bound to change as well," she said.

Marshall said that due to the nature of Queens residential buildings, which are mostly one-, two- and three-family homes, "our borough has been particularly susceptible to ... abusive real estate solicitation and related practices" and called for more publicity on the program.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who sponsored the original amendment, said in an interview that he supports the continuation of the program.

"Unfortunately, a certain percentage of real estate brokers are unscrupulous," he said, citing a recent incident in which the city opened a men's shelter at Creedmoor and a real estate agent sent out letters to residents, warning them that their home values would plummet.

"Since this has been in effect, the number of solicitations has dropped significantly. There are still some (agents) who still do it," Padavan said. "But if the law ceased, there'd be an avalanche." He added that he has also received unwanted real estate mailings at his home.

Bill Sievers, a Douglaston resident, brought three years' worth of solicitations to the hearing and handed them in to the state representatives. In a newsletter called "Douglaston/Little Neck Real Estate," he pointed out an article about household mold as a health hazard.

"This is a scare tactic" to frighten residents about the state of their homes, he said, and to persuade people to sell.

Despite having his name on the cease and desist list, Sievers has received an estimated 10 postcards from one persistent realtor. "I give her credit. She's consistent," he said. "But who wants this?"

The real estate agents are "picking names that have been on the tax rolls for a long time. They're targeting the elderly," Sievers said. "It's not very encouraging."

Socci later said the blockbusting tactics were not just bothersome but also menacing.

"It hits too close to home," Socci said. "It feels like a threat to the community."

The Department of State encouraged the residents to report violators to the Department of Licensing Services. In addition, there will be three additional hearings for concerned residents to voice their opinions on the program. The next one was scheduled for Thursday at PS 63 at 90-15 Sutter Ave. in Ozone Park.

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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