DEAR BENNY: I have a neighbor who has boasted to me that he has a felony background. I went online and found that he indeed has a felony for “aggravated theft.”
The record also showed he was arrested for driving under the influence, speeding, giving false information, resisting arrest, failure to stop for a stop light and failure to comply with direction of police.
Then I learned that he paid for training and received a real estate license in my state. Every real estate agent I have dealt with has full access to the keys to hundreds of customers’ property and could access property and possessions very easily, usually when the property owner is not home during a “showing.” Agents also have access to bank account numbers, finances, Social Security numbers and other personal information of hundreds of customers when filling out contracts and applying for mortgages.
My question is: How/why would a person with such a serious criminal background be granted a real estate license in any state? (This is assuming this person filled out the application truthfully.)
I have asked this question to various real estate agents that I know and every one of them was in disbelief and said the real estate profession is held to high standards for the very reasons mentioned above and one should not be granted a license if he/she indeed has a criminal background.
This incident gives me the perception that real estate licenses can be “bought” without the real estate commission/boards verifying the integrity of the applicants. With identity theft growing out of control and dangers associated with convicted felons, I have serious concerns with this situation. — Bonnie
DEAR BONNIE: I did not believe it appropriate to mention the state in which you live, as I try to be objective and relatively impartial in my column. However, I was curious as to the license requirements in the District of Columbia, where I practice law.
In order to be a licensed real estate agent or broker in Washington, D.C., you cannot have “been convicted of an offense which bears directly on the fitness of the person to be licensed.” So failure to stop at a red light or arrest for speeding would not, in my opinion, be grounds to deny the license.
However, convicted of aggravated theft, or even driving under the influence, would, in my opinion, give the real estate commission the right to deny or revoke a license.
I appreciate your concerns and your uneasiness. Obviously, you want to expose this person but are concerned about your safety.
I suggest that you contact the executive director of your state’s real estate commission and — without giving your name — explain the situation. Ask if the commission will investigate this matter based on confidential information submitted by an anonymous citizen.
If the commission is willing to do this, then provide the information you have. On the other hand, if the commission requires that complaints be verified by the complainant, I suggest you contact an attorney who can act as your intermediary.
Alternatively, you may be able to get your local newspaper to dig into this matter and write a story about it.
I am also curious to learn how much investigating real estate commissions throughout the country really do when reviewing license applications.
DEAR BENNY: In a recent column, you answered a question from a woman who needed to find affordable housing. I suggest that she contact her local Habitat for Humanity organization. They will work with her and her fiance to build a home for her that is handicapped-accessible.
Yes, she will have to put in some “sweat” equity, but it doesn’t have to be “hammer and nails” type of work. Habitat will allow both of them to work on fundraising projects like bake sales or social events, etc. — Norm
DEAR NORM: Thank you for writing and for your suggestion. I cannot and will not endorse any particular organization, since there are many such programs out there that assist people with housing needs. You have mentioned Habitat for Humanity, and I will let my readers do their own research and make up their own mind as to whether that program fits their individual needs.
Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.