Several of the nation’s top real estate firms reportedly received subpoenas this week, as New York State investigates instances of housing discrimination highlighted last year by a groundbreaking report from Newsday.
Coldwell Banker, Douglas Elliman, Keller Williams, RE/MAX and Realty Connect USA are among the firms to receive subpoenas, according to New York State Senate officials, as reported Thursday by Newsday.
It wasn’t initially clear from the report if the franchises targeted by the investigation, or their franchisor, was the company subpoenaed. A spokesperson from RE/MAX confirmed RE/MAX LLC hasn’t received any subpoena, but the two franchises involved have received subpoenas and intend to cooperate with the investigation.
Douglas Elliman declined to comment on the report.
The initial multiple bylined story, published in November 2019, found that 19 percent of the time, Asians were discriminated against, 39 percent of the time Hispanics were discriminated against and 49 percent of the time, black consumers were discriminated against. The report tested nearly 100 real estate agents and secretly recording hundreds of hours of conversations while looking at the listings of more than 5,000 homes, over a three-year period.
Agents associated with multiple brokerages were accused of steering the undercover investigators to neighborhoods that matched their own race or ethnicity and often subjected minority investigators to more restrictive conditions prior to viewing properties.
Multiple state investigations followed the report, and now the firms whose agents were at the center of the story, are being subpoenaed in connection with those investigations. In December, Ryan Gorman, the CEO of Coldwell Banker, was just one of 68 real estate professionals invited to testify in a State Senate hearing at Hofstra University who showed up.
“Coldwell Banker Real Estate is committed to upholding the spirit and letter of the Fair and Equal Housing Act and enhancing our own internal educational programs and policies,” a spokesperson for Coldwell Banker, said in a statement when asked about the subpoena. “We continue to support the New York State Senate in their efforts to improve fair and equitable housing, which is why we appeared and testified before the joint hearing of the Housing, Consumer Protections and Government Operations Committees last December.”
RE/MAX this past week also made Fair Housing a priority at its annual R4 convention in Las Vegas, holding a training session for agents on what they need to know about Fair Housing in 2020. RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos specifically addressed the Newsday report.
“Sometimes we get focused on the business and not on the people,” Contos said, “not focused on equality and treating people right. People get heads down and they get an unconscious bias and don’t quite realize equality and Fair Housing.”
“Remember that the person that you’re talking to is unique but we have to treat everybody equally and everybody fairly,” Contos added.
The New York State Senate is also calling for an appropriation of $12 million in upcoming budget talks to be allocated for, “fair housing and enforcement actions,” according to Newsday.