Rockland: Public Hearing on ‘Blockbusting’ Set

Rockland: Public Hearing on ‘Blockbusting’ Set

State considers imposing a cease and desist zone in Rockland to stop unwanted solicitation.

SUFFERN – Rising reports from homeowners of high-pressure and intimidating real estate tactics will be addressed during a state public hearing on Wednesday.

The Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services will hold the meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at Rockland County Community College, at 145 College Road in Suffern.

EDITORIAL: ‘Blockbusting’ probe an important step in Rockland

The Department of State is investigating whether Rockland residents are under “intense and repeated solicitation” by real estate agents and salespeople to sell their homes, said Laz Benitez, director of communications at the Department of State.

If that’s the case, the department can establish a “cease and desist zone” in some or all parts of the county, where homeowners can add their information to a non-solicitation list, Benitez said.

”After such a zone is established,” Benitez said, “the owners of residential real property, located within the zone, may file an owner’s statement with the secretary expressing their wish not to be solicited by real estate brokers, salespersons or other persons regularly engaged in the trade or business of buying and selling real estate.”

State Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, called for the public hearing to shed light on how pervasive high-pressure real estate tactics are in the county and where they’re being used.

“Where is the problem? Is it all of Rockland County? Is it certain streets within certain communities? That is something that we have to look into,” Carlucci said.

The state legislators have been working for months — in conjunction with with CUPON, or the Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods — to gather evidence from residents who have repeatedly had their doors knocked on and phones called by people asking to buy their homes. More than a dozen residents are expected to testify at the public hearing.

Residents’ complaints have primarily centered on pushy real estate canvassers, and some homeowners have used terms such as “blockbusting” — the practice of pressuring homeowners to sell by threatening that home values will drop and their neighborhoods are changing — on behalf of the growing ultra-Orthodox community. Real estate agents have denied such threatening tactics.

MORE COVERAGE: ‘Do not knock’ laws gain momentum in Rockland

MORE COVERAGE: Orangetown passes ‘Do Not Knock’ registry regarding solicitors

But Jaffee said there was little doubt in her mind that blockbusting was happening in the county, “and intimidation was definitely a part of the approach.”

“It’s very pervasive in Ramapo,” Jaffee said. She added that the practice appeared to be spreading to Chestnut Ridge and Airmont.

“I think we need to stop it now so that it does not spread,” Jaffee said.

If a cease and desist zone is established, it can last up to five years, Benitez said.

Violations are filed with the Department of State. Fines range from $150 for a first violation, up to $500 for a second violation, and up to $1,000 for a third violation and each subsequent violation.

The Department of State also can suspend or revoke the license of a real estate agent found in violation.

There are no active cease and desist zones in the state, Benitez said. The most recent zones in Queens and the Bronx expired in August 2014.

Some Rockland municipalities have already begun acting to curb unwanted solicitation.

“Do not knock” registries have cropped up in Airmont, Clarkstown, and Orangetown as laws empowering residents to keep solicitors off their property gain momentum across the county.

MORE COVERAGE: ‘Blockbusting’ pressures Rockland homeowners

Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said in a released statement that residents in the town have “felt the pressures of aggressive realtors looking to purchase homes that are not for sale.”

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