Agent cold calls have come under attack recently, and now their text message equivalent are also under scrutiny, according to a series of Florida lawsuits.
Two Florida law firms have teamed up to file lawsuits against three real estate companies of very different sizes: Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, which is owned by Realogy subsidiary NRT and has more than 5,200 agents in Florida; Maxim Realtors, a Fort Myers, Florida-based brokerage with about five dozen agents; and Marzucco Real Estate, a Naples, Florida-based brokerage with 11 agents.
The Fort Lauderdale-based law firms, Eisenband Law P.A. and Hiraldo P.A., have filed nearly identical class-action lawsuits against each brokerage, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) which prohibits sending unsolicited autodialed text messages to consumers without their prior express consent. The complaints also note prior express written consent is required for text messages that contain advertising, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The cases appear to be part of a string of at least 30 lawsuits filed by Eisenband and Hiraldo, mostly in the last six months, against various companies alleging violations of the TCPA. Other companies they’ve sued include Money Map Press, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Bluegreen Vacations, Nova Dental, JRC Fitness, Combined Insurance Company of America, United Enrollment Services, and several automotive companies. The pair sued Nationstar in November and the case settled last month.
The TCPA is also the law at issue in a recently filed case against NRT and Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Realogy’s franchise arm, for agent cold calls. These suits are coming up at a time when agents hope to take advantage of every technology tool available to them while consumers are rebelling against frequent interruptions from telemarketers.
In three separate complaints, attorneys for plaintiffs Steven Grossberg and Christian LaRosa (LaRosa is the plaintiff for two of the complaints), residents of Miami-Dade County, alleged that Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, Maxim Realtors and Marzucco Real Estate, respectively, sent text messages to the plaintiffs and other consumers without their prior express consent soliciting them to purchase or list properties with their brokerage.
“Defendant caused thousands of unsolicited text messages to be sent to the cellular telephones of Plaintiff and Class Members, causing them injuries, including invasion of their privacy, aggravation, annoyance, intrusion on seclusion, trespass, and conversion,” the attorneys wrote in the complaints.
“Conversion” refers to assuming the rights of ownership over personal property belonging to another person without their authorization.
In an emailed statement, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate told Inman, “We conduct business with the highest of ethical standards and take compliance with the law seriously, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. We will not comment further on pending litigation.”
Maxim Realtors and Marzucco Real Estate did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a March 20 complaint, Grossberg received a text message linking to Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate’s website on Feb. 15, 2019.
According to another complaint filed the same day, LaRosa received a text message on Feb. 14, 2019 asking for his email address and soliciting him to list his home with Marzucco Real Estate.
According to an April 4 complaint, LaRosa, who appears to be the same plaintiff as in the above lawsuit, received a text message on March 29, 2019 soliciting him to list his property with Maxim Realtors.
Each complaint seeks to represent a class consisting of all people in the U.S. who were sent a text message on their cell phone in the last four years from each defendant or on the defendant’s behalf using the same type of equipment used to text message the plaintiff. Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimate each class will have thousands of consumers.
Each complaint seeks an injunction prohibiting the defendant from using autodialers to call and text message people without their prior express consent as well as between $500 and $1,500 in damages for each call or text message in violation of the TCPA. The complaints estimate the damages for each class will add up to more than $5 million each.
The complaints also demand the defendants safeguard evidence by taking “affirmative steps to preserve all records, lists, electronic databases or other itemization of telephone numbers associated with Defendants and the communication or transmittal of the text messages as alleged herein.”