Bring Back Cease & Desist
For years, unwanted real estate solicitations were a problem in Queens and other parts of New York City.
Real estate agents went to residents and offered to buy their homes, even though the residents had expressed no interest in selling. The solicitations included door-to-door visits, mailings, and phone calls. In some cases, the agents used high-pressure tactics. They stoked fears that the residents’ neighbors and friends were all planning to leave the neighborhood, and despicably attempted to play up racial anxieties. They also fabricated claims about impending drops in property values. Some experts said it was actually the fears fed by unscrupulous real estate brokers that destabilized home values.
This type of solicitation, known as “blockbusting,” was prohibited by law from 1971 until 1994. In the years that followed, state officials implemented a “cease-and-desist” list. Homeowners who did not wish to receive real estate solicitations could put themselves on a list, and brokers could be punished for contacting addresses on that list.
Since that time, specific neighborhoods needed to be renewed as eligible for the ceaseand desist list. After those renewals, individual property owners could then put themselves back on the list.
Through the work of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation, Woodhaven had been designated a cease-anddesist zone, but the designation expired after five years, thus requiring renewal by the Secretary of State. In 2010, after prolonged efforts by the WRBA and the GWDC, Woodhaven was named one of only seven Queens neighborhoods in which homeowners could choose to prevent solicitations from real estate agents.
Now, however, the cease-anddesist list is expired yet again. Residents of Woodhaven have already notified the WRBA that they have begun to receive unprompted real estate solicitations.
In Woodhaven, at least, blockbusting isn’t the same concern that it was in decades past, but there should be no debate that people who do not wish to be urged to sell their homes should be able to prevent annoying or unwanted offers from real estate brokers. There are parallels in other areas. For example, we can add ourselves to the National Do-Not-Call Registry to prevent unsolicited commercial phone calls. We can opt out of marketing mail and credit card offers. By posting a sign on our property, we can decline to receive hand-delivered advertising circulars and solicitations.
We should be able to do the same with real estate solicitations. It is part of our right to be left alone.
State Sen. Tony Avella has introduced a bill in Albany that would allow all Queens residents-not just those from specific neighborhoods-to join a cease-and-desist list. The list would be valid for 10 years before renewal is needed. The WRBA supports Sen. Avella’s legislation and encourages our state legislators to back it as well. At the very least, we want Woodhaven to receive the same cease-and-desist protection we had enjoyed for years.
It is important to note that not all real estate brokers engage in the sort of practice that the ceaseand desist list blocked. Many real estate agents are valuable, contributing members of their communities, who want their neighborhoods to remain stable and thriving. Unfortunately, though, not all of them are. The unscrupulous real estate brokers actually put the honest, lawabiding ones at a disadvantage, while at the same time giving them all a bad name in some people’s minds. This is yet another reason to protect residents from intense unwanted solicitations: it protects the good real estate agents too.
By bringing back cease-anddesist, state officials will give Woodhaven residents the chance to send a clear message to real estate brokers: Don’t call us; we’ll call you.
Editor’s note: The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting-a holiday celebration-is on Saturday, Dec. 13, noon at Emanuel United Church of Christ (93-12 91st Avenue). Blenkinsopp is a member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the WRBA. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.