The Federal Trade Commission has given final approval to a consent agreement with Port Washington Real Estate Board (the Board), settling allegations that it restrained competition in the provision of residential real estate brokerage services in and around Port Washington, New York. The Board, through its rules governing membership, advertising and listings, injured consumers by unreasonably restraining competition among real estate brokers and between brokers and homeowners, the FTC said. The Commission's action makes the consent order provisions binding on the respondents.
Under the final order, the Board is prohibited from, among other things, restricting the use of exclusive agency listings (listings permitting homeowners to pay a reduced fee or commission, or no fee or commission, if they sell the properties themselves); fixing commission splits between listing and selling brokers; restricting or prohibiting members from holding open houses or using "For Sale" signs; restricting brokers from advertising free services to property owners; and excluding from membership brokers who do not operate a full-time office in the territory served by the Board's multiple listing service.
The order also prohibits the Board from restricting or interfering with any broker's acceptance or publication on the Board's multiple listing service of exclusive agency listings. (The order, however, allows the Board to include in its publication a code or symbol indicating that a listing is an exclusive agency listing, or to adopt reasonable terms applicable whether the listing is an exclusive agency listing or an exclusive right- to-sell listing.)
The order further prohibits the Board from suggesting or fixing the rate or amount of any commission split between a listing broker and a selling broker, or restricting a property owner from playing a role in determining what the commission split should be. The Board is also prohibited from restricting or interfering with any member's or homeowner's ability to hold open houses or place signs on properties. In addition, the order prohibits the Board from restricting or interfering with the ability of its member brokers to advertise free services to property owners.
Finally, the order prohibits the Board from limiting membership in, or use of, its multiple listing service on the condition that a broker operate or maintain a full-time office in PWREB's territory. The Board is allowed, however, to adopt a reasonable and nondiscriminatory policy to assure that its members are actively engaged in real estate brokerage and that listings published on the multiple listing service are adequately serviced.
The order requires the Board to amend its rules to conform with the FTC order and to provide a copy of the amended rules and the FTC's order to its members.
The consent agreement was announced for a 60-day public- comment period on June 27. The Commission vote to issue it in final form occurred on Nov. 6 and was 5-0.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
A news release summarizing the complaint and consent agreement was issued at the time the Commission accepted the consent agreement for public comment. Copies of that release, the complaint and final order are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 901 0094)
(FTC Docket No. C-3625)