Can I, As An Agent, Get Sued For Something I Didn't Do?

By
Real Estate Agent with Las Cruces Homes and Land

It seems the answer to that question is YES.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a tweet which linked a blog from an agent in Florida: Sorry, All Home For Sale Listings Have Been Removed From My Website. I thought that, maybe, it was about having problems with a webhost. Boy, was I wrong.

It has to do with something agents use called IDX. Every agent with a website will have the ability to search available homes on their website using the IDX program. It comes up when you click on a link called Search Homes or something similar. The IDX will show EVERY SINGLE PROPERTY listed in the local Multiple Listing Service.

Now, back to our dear Florida REALTOR®. In a nutshell, he has the IDX for his area on his website. A person who works as a Fair Housing Tester found a home on Realtor.com that had a description which is against Fair Housing Rules/Regulations: Noone under 16 allowed (I'm paraphrasing.) This 'tester', after leaving Realtor.com, somehow found this REALTOR®'s website and decided that, since that property showed up on his site, he was the listing agent and was therefore guilty of breaking Fair Housing Laws.

Problem: This agent WAS NOT THE LISTING AGENT and has no ties at all to the property in question.

It seems that doesn't matter as he has now been slapped with a federal lawsuit and fined $5,000.00. The agent who actually held the listing (from what I've read) hasn't had any charges/fines filed against him/her. (I've not seen any updates as of this morning, 3/11/13)

HUH?

To give you an example: When you go our website, listings come up on the first page. If you click on ANY home, at the very bottom of the page, you'll see "Listing courtesy of XYZ Real Estate" In the content of the page are the agent's remarks about the home: " Great home with tons of upgrades! All poly pipes have been replaced. New kitchen cabinets & counter tops. New tiles floors, new air conditioner, new furnace & new roof. Come make this home yours today." (Example of one on our page this morning.)

The LISTING AGENT wrote that. Not me, not my husband, not anyone on our team. The listing agent works for XYZ Real Estate. Chances are I've not met the agent and the chances are even bigger that I've not been to this listing.

So - if this agent had included something along the lines of "No one under 16 allowed" - it would be THAT AGENT at fault. Not me. I have absolutely NO control over agent remarks that show up in our MLS. I'm not the Almighty and Powerful Copy Editor (although sometimes I wish I were), able to edit remarks.

Here's how that part works: As the listing agent, I take down all of your information and research your home through various websites - tax assessor and so on - to make sure I have all the information correct when I'm getting ready to enter it into the MLS. I usually enter my own listings, some agents have their office do it for them. Once I get all of the information entered, I hit the button and BOOM it's on the MLS. As far as I'm concerned, it's MY responsibility to make sure the info - and the agent comments - are correct and legal. Yes, maybe someone entering the home into the MLS will catch a mistake but, ultimately, it's on me.

There's no one sitting in a tiny, windowless room, reviewing every single MLS entry...althought I'm starting to think that maybe there should be.

So, back to the reason for this post: Our dear Florida REALTOR®, in my opinion, has been HOSED (to put it in politically correct terms - you may insert your own word). He has done NOTHING wrong and yet he's being hung out to dry.  It could get to the point where he has to shutter his real estate business. I'd be gunshy, too, to have the IDX feed on my website after something like this. The feed is what keeps potential clients on my website, opening up the lines of communication. Without a feed, a buyer is going to skip on by.

My hope is that all of this gets worked out and that Jeff Launiere is cleared of any wrongdoing. Because, if he isn't, this is going to set a precedent that will throw ALL REALTORS® into panic mode. Trust me - we'll all be watching how this works out.

Comments (10)

Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

I have been following this story. It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I will be surprised if this lawsuit isn't dropped.

 

Mar 11, 2013 02:23 AM
Team Honeycutt
Allen Tate - Concord, NC

Honestly, reading your post really does make any agent think. There are so many ways that we can be in violation of something that it is really scary.

Betty

Mar 11, 2013 02:24 AM
William Feela
WHISPERING PINES REALTY - North Branch, MN
Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No.

The answer to the question is YES.  You can be sued for most anything.  All it takes is a willing attorney to taked the case.  Winning can be a problem for the person filing but it is the cost we have to pay to defend ourselves!

Mar 11, 2013 02:30 AM
Emmary Simpson
Las Cruces Homes and Land - Las Cruces, NM
Serving Las Cruces, NM

Tammie - I sure hope this is dropped. If not, we're all in trouble.

Team Honeycutt - There doesn't seem to be any recourse, except for ditching the IDX and I don't know of any agent who could survive without it.

William - scary thought, huh.

Mar 11, 2013 02:43 AM
Cindy Jones
Integrity Real Estate Group - Woodbridge, VA
Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News

I know this is a story many of ours are following with interest.  To make matters worse the tester filing the lawsuit for damages is PAID to be a Fair Housing tester and according to one report I read will earn a percentage of any settlement. This isn't a person who was even interested in buying the property.  DUH lawsuit should be thrown out and the original agent and HOA which supports the discriminatory practice fined.

Mar 11, 2013 02:49 AM
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

I have seen Jeff's post also. This is a sad commentary there are opportunists out there filing malicious lawsuits to gain money. The listing agent is the one responsible for the error, not agents who have IDX. Apparently, the stand is if it's on your website, you are responsible. Makes me think twice for sure.

Mar 11, 2013 02:51 AM
Emmary Simpson
Las Cruces Homes and Land - Las Cruces, NM
Serving Las Cruces, NM

Cindy - I hadn't seen that part of the story. Good grief.

Pamela - Do we need to fill up our website with disclosures now?

Mar 11, 2013 03:09 AM
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

Apparently disclosures will not protect agents. Now I know why some brokers do not have IDX on their own personal hosted website. Having been threatened with a lawsuit late last year for another reason (not IDX) I won't be taking any chances. I've already disabled IDX on my website.

Mar 11, 2013 03:17 AM
Emmary Simpson
Las Cruces Homes and Land - Las Cruces, NM
Serving Las Cruces, NM

Pamela - Interesting. How are you getting clients - the old fashioned way?

Mar 11, 2013 04:40 AM
Douglas Belcher
RE/MAX of Nanaimo - Nanaimo, BC
RE/MAX, Nanaimo ABR ePRO SRES

I think it should fall to the Brokerage that is responsible for the agent that posted the breach of the fair housing laws. This sound like a lawsuit that when heard by reasonable a judge...will simply go away. The agent is not vicariously liable for the other agents actions. The Brokerage however is.

Mar 21, 2013 05:08 AM