After Newsday’s 2019 Long Island Divided investigation into housing discrimination, one of three real estate agents who lost their license is working again. NewsdayTV’s Macy Egeland reports.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp, Steve Pfost

New York mistakenly granted a new professional license to a real estate agent six months after revoking his previous licenses for what state officials called “discriminatory” conduct revealed in Newsday’s Long Island Divided investigation into housing bias. 

The state revoked the new license in February, five days after Newsday asked why the agent, Himanshoo (Raj) Sanghvi, still appeared in the state’s public database of licensed real estate professionals even though his previous licenses had been revoked. Under state law, after a revocation, a real estate agent is not eligible to obtain a new credential for a year. 

“Due to an oversight, which has since been corrected, a clerk accidentally approved his application, resulting in him getting his license back,” Mercedes Padilla, a spokeswoman for the New York Department of State, said Wednesday. Sanghvi is no longer licensed, she said.

Sanghvi declined to comment. His attorney, Harry C. Demiris Jr., argued during disciplinary proceedings that there was “no evidence of any unlawful steering or discrimination.” 

The ease with which Sanghvi was able to get a new license undercuts the state’s effort to uphold anti-discrimination laws and raises questions about how New York supervises real estate agents who guide homebuyers in what can be the biggest purchases of their lives, fair housing advocates said.

The state needs more stringent vetting to “make sure that the public is protected,” said Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services in Bohemia.

“It’s pretty rare that a licensing board would revoke an agent’s license on the basis of a discrimination allegation,” said Morgan Williams, general counsel at the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington, D.C. “It's why it's so egregious that there seems to be a failure to actually ensure that the revocation was implemented.” 

The incident also highlights New York consumers’ lack of easy access to information about agents’ disciplinary histories, real estate industry experts said.

New York is among the least transparent states when it comes to allowing consumers and potential employers to easily view agents’ disciplinary records. As a result, New York real estate agents who face penalties for discrimination or financial wrongdoing are largely shielded from public disclosure of their misconduct.

“In 2024, it seems ridiculous to me that you can’t just go to a website and … do a search and see the full history of what’s going on with this license,” said Rob Hahn, a real estate industry consultant. “There’s no privacy concern; this is a state-granted license.” 

The original revocation of Sanghvi’s licenses occurred in the wake of Newsday’s 2019 series examining the treatment of homebuyers of different races across Long Island’s for-sale housing market. The three-year investigation made use of paired testing, which matched undercover white, Black, Asian and Hispanic testers who posed as homebuyers to engage with real estate agents. Testers recorded undercover video and audio of their interactions with real estate agents. The investigation found evidence of widespread unequal and disparate treatment of would-be homebuyers of color, according to two nationally known fair housing experts.

New York revoked the licenses of three agents, including Sanghvi, suspended the licenses of seven agents and issued fines of up to $2,000 for five others based on the evidence published in Newsday’s articles and videos. The penalties were among the most high-profile disciplinary decisions ever handed down by the New York Department of State, which oversees real estate agents.

The case against Sanghvi centered on comments he made on video to a white tester participating in Newsday’s housing discrimination project. Sanghvi, who was then an associate broker with Century 21 American Homes in Syosset, told a white tester that Huntington is a top school district, “But you don’t want to go there, it’s a mixed neighborhood … You have commercial, you have residential, you have white, you have Black, you have Latino, you have Indians, you have Chinese, you have Koreans …. It’s a mini, mini United Nations.”

A state administrative law judge called the comments discriminatory, suspended Sanghvi's licenses for 6 months and fined him $500 in 2021. At the time, Sanghvi held two licenses, one as an associate broker with Century 21 American Homes in Hicksville and the other as a corporate broker with R&D Real Estate Properties Inc. in Westbury.

The state official prosecuting the case and Sanghvi both appealed the suspension. Sanghvi's attorney, Demiris, wrote that Sanghvi “had no intention to discriminate” and argued he should have been required to attend more training, rather than having his license suspended or revoked.

On appeal, Special Deputy Secretary of State Daniel E. Shapiro revoked Sanghvi’s licenses, writing that the comments were “egregious” and “demonstrate that he is unfit” to work as a real estate agent. Agency documents obtained by Newsday through a public records request show the decision to revoke Sanghvi’s licenses was sent to Demiris in April 2022.

However, six months after the revocation, in October 2022, Sanghvi applied for a new license, this time as an associate broker with Coldwell Banker American Homes in Syosset. A copy of the application obtained by Newsday shows his sponsoring broker at the firm was Michael P. Litzner.

The application included a question about whether the applicant had ever had a license suspended or revoked, and it directed the applicant to attach any relevant documents. Sanghvi checked that box, but along with his application he submitted the initial decision suspending the licenses, not the appeal decision revoking them.

Litzner did not respond to requests for comment.

The Department of State granted the new license in October 2022. The new license was separate from his previous credentials, with a new license number. It remained in effect for 15 months, until Newsday asked the Department of State on Jan. 31 why he was listed in the agency’s online directory of licensed real estate salespersons and brokers despite the revocation of his previous licenses. Information obtained by Newsday in a public record request shows that Sanghvi’s new license was revoked on Feb. 5. However, the Department of State said last month that an investigation remains open.

Before the most recent revocation, Sanghvi used his new license to list a four-bedroom home in Mineola that sold for $620,000 last year, OneKey MLS listing information shows. In addition, on Feb. 2, three days before the revocation, he listed a two-family house in the South Richmond Hill section of Queens. The Queens home sale closed last month for $920,000, OneKey MLS reported. It could not be determined from listing service data if Sanghvi collected a commission for either of the sales, or if he continued to handle the Queens sale after the revocation.

The agency said in an email, “He is not currently licensed.  If he reapplies for a new license, the pending investigation will determine whether he possesses the requisite good character and trustworthiness to hold a real estate license.”

Fair housing advocates said Sanghvi’s ability to obtain a new license highlights how little information is readily available to consumers and brokerages about whether real estate professionals have been disciplined by the state.

Wilder, of Long Island Housing Services, said New York should develop a more robust review process before a real estate agent whose license was revoked can get a new credential.

“I look forward to seeing … how the Department of State is going to handle this one particular case now that it's brought to its attention that a mistake was made," Wilder said. "And I hope that it uses it as a reason to ask for more resources to, you know, be able to improve its processes.”

The Department of State said in a statement that it “holds real estate licensees to the highest standards to provide trustworthy services as they are obligated to act with honesty in their dealings with New Yorkers.” As soon as the error was discovered, the agency said, it “took immediate action to correct it and we continue to monitor the situation.”

In New York, agents can apply for a new license one year after a revocation. The one-year period is established by state law, and when an agent applies for a new license after a revocation, a Department of State investigative unit reviews the application, with “no guarantee” an agent will be granted a new license, the Department of State said. 

In 12 other states, agents must wait two to seven years before reapplying, according to the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

The group, called ARELLO, keeps a database of real estate license status and disciplinary information, relying on information submitted by its 39 member states. New York is not a member, the group said. The database “ensures that the most recent and accurate information is available to regulators, industry professionals, and the public,” the group’s CEO, Jessica Hickok, said in a statement.

In the cases of real estate agents who have committed serious wrongdoing and had their licenses revoked, the state should conduct “a process that shows that they have been rehabilitated in some way to get that license back, and all of that should be transparent for consumers,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington, D.C.

New York is one of just five states that do not provide an online search-by-name directory with information about the license status of both current and former real estate agents, a review of state websites by Newsday shows. In 45 states, government websites list the names and former affiliations of currently and previously licensed agents, allowing consumers and brokerages to inquire about the circumstances under which agents gave up their licenses. In 30 of those states and the District of Columbia, regulatory agencies also publish information online about agents’ disciplinary history, including license revocations and, in some cases, links to disciplinary decisions or summaries of cases.

New York does offer an online archive of disciplinary decisions, but it is separate from the search-by-name directory and can be difficult for consumers to find and use. 

In some cases, disciplinary records are missing from the archive, a review by Newsday shows. Since January 2019, the state has revoked the licenses of at least 10 Long Island-based real estate agents, information obtained through a Newsday public records request and other reporting shows. In four of those cases, the agents’ revocation records are missing from the agency’s online archive. The Department of State did not comment on the missing records or the lack of disciplinary information in its directory of agents.

The state has more than 127,000 licensed real estate agents, including more than 15,000 in Nassau County and 12,500 in Suffolk County, agency records show. The state issued more than 12,000 new real estate licenses last year, Padilla said. 

“It’s a no-brainer, we should have complete transparency with licensed individuals,” said Andrew Lieb, managing partner with the Smithtown and Manhasset law firm Lieb at Law, whose specialties include real estate litigation. Publicizing all decisions helps not just consumers but also license-holders by informing them about how such cases are handled and ensuring the law is applied fairly, he said. 

The public should be able to readily view real estate agents’ disciplinary records, advocates for government transparency said. Otherwise, consumers face barriers in finding out whether real estate agents have been disciplined for discrimination or other misconduct, they said.

Unlike real estate agents, New York’s financial advisers, attorneys and doctors who face penalties are included in search-by-name directories where consumers and employers can find their disciplinary histories.

“The disciplinary history of any licensed professional is important information that should be easily obtainable by the public,” Paul Wolf, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan New York Coalition For Open Government, said in an email. “Information is power.”

New York mistakenly granted a new professional license to a real estate agent six months after revoking his previous licenses for what state officials called “discriminatory” conduct revealed in Newsday’s Long Island Divided investigation into housing bias. 

The state revoked the new license in February, five days after Newsday asked why the agent, Himanshoo (Raj) Sanghvi, still appeared in the state’s public database of licensed real estate professionals even though his previous licenses had been revoked. Under state law, after a revocation, a real estate agent is not eligible to obtain a new credential for a year. 

“Due to an oversight, which has since been corrected, a clerk accidentally approved his application, resulting in him getting his license back,” Mercedes Padilla, a spokeswoman for the New York Department of State, said Wednesday. Sanghvi is no longer licensed, she said.

Sanghvi declined to comment. His attorney, Harry C. Demiris Jr., argued during disciplinary proceedings that there was “no evidence of any unlawful steering or discrimination.” 

The ease with which Sanghvi was able to get a new license undercuts the state’s effort to uphold anti-discrimination laws and raises questions about how New York supervises real estate agents who guide homebuyers in what can be the biggest purchases of their lives, fair housing advocates said.

The state needs more stringent vetting to “make sure that the public is protected,” said Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services in Bohemia.

“It’s pretty rare that a licensing board would revoke an agent’s license on the basis of a discrimination allegation,” said Morgan Williams, general counsel at the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington, D.C. “It's why it's so egregious that there seems to be a failure to actually ensure that the revocation was implemented.” 

The incident also highlights New York consumers’ lack of easy access to information about agents’ disciplinary histories, real estate industry experts said.

New York is among the least transparent states when it comes to allowing consumers and potential employers to easily view agents’ disciplinary records. As a result, New York real estate agents who face penalties for discrimination or financial wrongdoing are largely shielded from public disclosure of their misconduct.

“In 2024, it seems ridiculous to me that you can’t just go to a website and … do a search and see the full history of what’s going on with this license,” said Rob Hahn, a real estate industry consultant. “There’s no privacy concern; this is a state-granted license.” 

The original revocation of Sanghvi’s licenses occurred in the wake of Newsday’s 2019 series examining the treatment of homebuyers of different races across Long Island’s for-sale housing market. The three-year investigation made use of paired testing, which matched undercover white, Black, Asian and Hispanic testers who posed as homebuyers to engage with real estate agents. Testers recorded undercover video and audio of their interactions with real estate agents. The investigation found evidence of widespread unequal and disparate treatment of would-be homebuyers of color, according to two nationally known fair housing experts.

Himanshoo (Raj) Sanghvi.

Himanshoo (Raj) Sanghvi. Credit: Newsday

New York revoked the licenses of three agents, including Sanghvi, suspended the licenses of seven agents and issued fines of up to $2,000 for five others based on the evidence published in Newsday’s articles and videos. The penalties were among the most high-profile disciplinary decisions ever handed down by the New York Department of State, which oversees real estate agents.

The case against Sanghvi centered on comments he made on video to a white tester participating in Newsday’s housing discrimination project. Sanghvi, who was then an associate broker with Century 21 American Homes in Syosset, told a white tester that Huntington is a top school district, “But you don’t want to go there, it’s a mixed neighborhood … You have commercial, you have residential, you have white, you have Black, you have Latino, you have Indians, you have Chinese, you have Koreans …. It’s a mini, mini United Nations.”

A state administrative law judge called the comments discriminatory, suspended Sanghvi's licenses for 6 months and fined him $500 in 2021. At the time, Sanghvi held two licenses, one as an associate broker with Century 21 American Homes in Hicksville and the other as a corporate broker with R&D Real Estate Properties Inc. in Westbury.

The state official prosecuting the case and Sanghvi both appealed the suspension. Sanghvi's attorney, Demiris, wrote that Sanghvi “had no intention to discriminate” and argued he should have been required to attend more training, rather than having his license suspended or revoked.

On appeal, Special Deputy Secretary of State Daniel E. Shapiro revoked Sanghvi’s licenses, writing that the comments were “egregious” and “demonstrate that he is unfit” to work as a real estate agent. Agency documents obtained by Newsday through a public records request show the decision to revoke Sanghvi’s licenses was sent to Demiris in April 2022.

Applied for a new license 

However, six months after the revocation, in October 2022, Sanghvi applied for a new license, this time as an associate broker with Coldwell Banker American Homes in Syosset. A copy of the application obtained by Newsday shows his sponsoring broker at the firm was Michael P. Litzner.

The application included a question about whether the applicant had ever had a license suspended or revoked, and it directed the applicant to attach any relevant documents. Sanghvi checked that box, but along with his application he submitted the initial decision suspending the licenses, not the appeal decision revoking them.

Litzner did not respond to requests for comment.

The Department of State granted the new license in October 2022. The new license was separate from his previous credentials, with a new license number. It remained in effect for 15 months, until Newsday asked the Department of State on Jan. 31 why he was listed in the agency’s online directory of licensed real estate salespersons and brokers despite the revocation of his previous licenses. Information obtained by Newsday in a public record request shows that Sanghvi’s new license was revoked on Feb. 5. However, the Department of State said last month that an investigation remains open.

Timeline of Sanghvi's case

Dec. 28, 2021

Licenses suspended

A New York Department of State administrative law judge suspends the licenses of Himanshoo (Raj) Sanghvi for six months "for engaging in discriminatory acts," the decision shows. His licenses – one as an associate broker, the other as a corporate broker – had both expired by then.

April 27, 2022

Licenses revoked

New York Special Deputy Secretary of State Daniel E. Shapiro revokes Sanghvi's licenses on appeal, citing “discriminatory statements,” the decision shows.

Oct. 14, 2022

Applies for new license

Sanghvi and his sponsoring broker, Michael P. Litzner of Coldwell Banker American Homes, sign Sanghvi's application for a new license as an associate broker. The two-year license is granted soon after, with an expiration date of 10/26/2024.

Aug. 18, 2023

House Sanghvi listed sells

Mineola house listed by Sanghvi sells for $620,000, listing service records show. It cannot be determined from the records whether Sanghvi was involved in the closing or collected a commission.

Feb. 2, 2024

Sanghvi lists another home

Sanghvi lists a home for sale in the South Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, listing service records show.

Feb. 5, 2024

New license revoked

Sanghvi's new license is revoked.

June 5, 2024

Sanghvi's South Richmond Hill listing sells

South Richmond Hill home listed by Sanghvi sells for $920,000, listing service records show. It cannot be determined from the records whether Sanghvi was involved in the closing or collected a commission.

Before the most recent revocation, Sanghvi used his new license to list a four-bedroom home in Mineola that sold for $620,000 last year, OneKey MLS listing information shows. In addition, on Feb. 2, three days before the revocation, he listed a two-family house in the South Richmond Hill section of Queens. The Queens home sale closed last month for $920,000, OneKey MLS reported. It could not be determined from listing service data if Sanghvi collected a commission for either of the sales, or if he continued to handle the Queens sale after the revocation.

The agency said in an email, “He is not currently licensed.  If he reapplies for a new license, the pending investigation will determine whether he possesses the requisite good character and trustworthiness to hold a real estate license.”

One of the most lenient states

Fair housing advocates said Sanghvi’s ability to obtain a new license highlights how little information is readily available to consumers and brokerages about whether real estate professionals have been disciplined by the state.

Wilder, of Long Island Housing Services, said New York should develop a more robust review process before a real estate agent whose license was revoked can get a new credential.

“I look forward to seeing … how the Department of State is going to handle this one particular case now that it's brought to its attention that a mistake was made," Wilder said. "And I hope that it uses it as a reason to ask for more resources to, you know, be able to improve its processes.”

The Department of State said in a statement that it “holds real estate licensees to the highest standards to provide trustworthy services as they are obligated to act with honesty in their dealings with New Yorkers.” As soon as the error was discovered, the agency said, it “took immediate action to correct it and we continue to monitor the situation.”

In New York, agents can apply for a new license one year after a revocation. The one-year period is established by state law, and when an agent applies for a new license after a revocation, a Department of State investigative unit reviews the application, with “no guarantee” an agent will be granted a new license, the Department of State said. 

In 12 other states, agents must wait two to seven years before reapplying, according to the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

The group, called ARELLO, keeps a database of real estate license status and disciplinary information, relying on information submitted by its 39 member states. New York is not a member, the group said. The database “ensures that the most recent and accurate information is available to regulators, industry professionals, and the public,” the group’s CEO, Jessica Hickok, said in a statement.

In the cases of real estate agents who have committed serious wrongdoing and had their licenses revoked, the state should conduct “a process that shows that they have been rehabilitated in some way to get that license back, and all of that should be transparent for consumers,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington, D.C.

Limited Information

New York is one of just five states that do not provide an online search-by-name directory with information about the license status of both current and former real estate agents, a review of state websites by Newsday shows. In 45 states, government websites list the names and former affiliations of currently and previously licensed agents, allowing consumers and brokerages to inquire about the circumstances under which agents gave up their licenses. In 30 of those states and the District of Columbia, regulatory agencies also publish information online about agents’ disciplinary history, including license revocations and, in some cases, links to disciplinary decisions or summaries of cases.

New York does offer an online archive of disciplinary decisions, but it is separate from the search-by-name directory and can be difficult for consumers to find and use. 

In some cases, disciplinary records are missing from the archive, a review by Newsday shows. Since January 2019, the state has revoked the licenses of at least 10 Long Island-based real estate agents, information obtained through a Newsday public records request and other reporting shows. In four of those cases, the agents’ revocation records are missing from the agency’s online archive. The Department of State did not comment on the missing records or the lack of disciplinary information in its directory of agents.

The state has more than 127,000 licensed real estate agents, including more than 15,000 in Nassau County and 12,500 in Suffolk County, agency records show. The state issued more than 12,000 new real estate licenses last year, Padilla said. 

'It's a no-brainer' 

“It’s a no-brainer, we should have complete transparency with licensed individuals,” said Andrew Lieb, managing partner with the Smithtown and Manhasset law firm Lieb at Law, whose specialties include real estate litigation. Publicizing all decisions helps not just consumers but also license-holders by informing them about how such cases are handled and ensuring the law is applied fairly, he said. 

The public should be able to readily view real estate agents’ disciplinary records, advocates for government transparency said. Otherwise, consumers face barriers in finding out whether real estate agents have been disciplined for discrimination or other misconduct, they said.

Unlike real estate agents, New York’s financial advisers, attorneys and doctors who face penalties are included in search-by-name directories where consumers and employers can find their disciplinary histories.

“The disciplinary history of any licensed professional is important information that should be easily obtainable by the public,” Paul Wolf, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan New York Coalition For Open Government, said in an email. “Information is power.”

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