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Real estate giants subpoenaed in housing discrimination probe 

Agents and representatives from companies including Coldwell Banker,

Agents and representatives from companies including Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX, Keller Williams, Charles Rutenberg Realty, Realty Connect USA and Douglas Elliman were subpoenaed, according to state Senate officials. Credit: Newsday / John Keating

Some of the biggest names in real estate have been sent subpoenas by the New York State Senate, amid a probe of potential housing discrimination on Long Island.

The list includes Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX, Keller Williams, Charles Rutenberg Realty, Realty Connect USA and Douglas Elliman, according to state Senate officials.

The Senate also Thursday disclosed it will call for appropriating $12 million for “fair housing and enforcement” actions during upcoming negotiations over the state budget. About $1 million would be earmarked for Nassau and Suffolk counties, to help fund “pairs testing,” as Newsday deployed in its series, “Long Island Divided,” which sparked multiple state investigations.

In all, 31 subpoenas were issued, summoning agents and company representatives to appear at a Senate hearing currently slated for April 17 at the Nassau County legislative offices in Mineola.

The newspaper’s three-year investigation found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island. The investigation deployed undercover “testers” carrying hidden cameras and microphones.

The findings included evidence that potential homebuyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that agents required preapproved mortgages from black customers but not white ones. Forty-nine percent of African American testers received what housing experts deemed evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents; the number was 39% for Hispanic testers.

The Senate took the extraordinary step after just one out of 68 realty executives or agents accepted an invitation to testify at the chamber’s initial hearing on the subject in December at Hofstra University.

“Right now, the subpoenas have been sent out. We know that individuals are saying they received them,” Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee, one of three panels conducting the Senate probe.

A Coldwell Banker spokeswoman said she could not confirm the receipt of any subpoenas because its agents are independent contractors. Spokeswoman Roni Boyles noted the company had a representative at a Senate hearing in December — through its parent company Realogy Holdings Corp.’s NRT LLC.

 “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,” Boyles said. “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 …”

The other companies did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls to comment.

 “We want to know, since the [Newsday] investigation, what have they done?” Thomas said.

The one real estate executive to appear at the December hearing was M. Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of Realogy Holdings, the nation’s largest residential brokerage company by sales volume.

He acknowledged the Newsday series showed a “pervasive” problem of discrimination. Asked if the company owed African Americans an apology, Gorman said he personally apologized and vowed the company would review its training of agents nationwide.

 "This process has led me to believe we need to have our own training and to augment" state-mandated training, Gorman said. 

The Senate plans to include the housing funding in what’s referred to its “one-house budget” bill. These are documents the Senate and Assembly produce — usually in mid-March — that frame budget negotiations with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Thomas said besides specifically earmarking funds for Long Island, the housing appropriation would call for $4 million for nonprofit groups and $7 million to the state Division of Human Rights for testing and enforcement.

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