In this Wall Street Journal article, Neil Garfinkel is quoted regarding a recent opinion letter issued by the New York State Department of State regarding the use of corporate titles by real estate licensees.

Title Decision Hits Brokers

Real-estate brokers in New York may need to buy new business cards in the wake of a decision by state regulators declaring that many of the business titles they’ve adopted aren’t valid.

According to a letter sent Friday the New York’s Department of State to the Real Estate Board of New York, brokers cannot use titles such as vice president or executive vice president unless they actually have been appointed or elected as an officer at those companies. Many brokers using the titles haven’t received such company appointments.

Brokers who identify themselves with business titles they haven’t received are being “dishonest” and “misleading,” according to the letter sent to the board’s legal counsel, Neil Garfinkel of Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson.
“Agents prohibited from falsely advertising that they hold such a position within the brokerage,” according to the letter written by Whitney Clark, an attorney with the department.

Officials with the Department of State didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Garfinkel said Monday that the Department of State’s letter was in response to an inquiry from the Real Estate Board and the board currently is seeking clarification.

“It is an opinion that affects the industry in a widespread way,” he said. “I’d say there are many, many brokers this affects.”

Mr. Garfinkel said that there are three licenses a broker can have; real-estate broker, associate real-estate broker and licensed salesperson, and that the state can revoke or suspend the license or fine brokers who use titles illegally.
“I think there are some agents who are going to be upset but, at the end of the day, the law is the law,” he said.

Some brokerage executives said the decision would be a big change for many brokers.

“A title to a broker is very important,” one brokerage-firm spokesman said. “Even though they’re not voting titles, it designates a sort of level of achievement. How would you present yourself in the industry without a title? People would be very upset.”

(Note: A version of this article appeared April 30, 2013, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Title Decision Hits Brokers.)


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