Friday, February 07, 2020

Recent Legal Matters CE Course & DOS Guidance on Paying Landlord's Agents

Last night, 2/6/2020, we were thrilled to have a packed house attending our new CE - Recent Legal Matters.

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While not specifically a course topic, the DOS Guidance's Additional FAQs (updated: 1/31/2020) was brought up by students. Specifically, students inquired about FAQ #5:
5. CAN A LANDLORD’S AGENT COLLECT A “BROKER FEE” FROM THE PROSPECTIVE TENANT? No, a landlord’s agent cannot be compensated by the prospective tenant for bringing about the meeting of the minds. NY RPL § 238-a(1)(a) provides, in part, “no landlord, lessor, sub-lessor or grantor may demand any payment, fee, or charge for the processing, review or acceptance of an application, or demand any other payment, fee or charge before or at the beginning of the tenancy, except background checks and credit checks….” The fee to bring about the meeting of the minds would be a “payment, fee or charge before or at the beginning of the tenancy” other than a background or credit check as provided in this section. Accordingly, a landlord’s agent that collects a fee for bringing about the meeting of the minds between the landlord and tenant (i.e., the broker fee) from the tenant can be subject to discipline. 
What good timing for this to come up because our course materials included an explanation of the requirements for an agency (DOS) to issue a regulation, which were not undertaken with respect to this Guidance. As such, the Guidance is NOT law, but, instead an agency's interpretation of law. With respect to the Guidance constituting an interpretation rather than law, we explained how and when an agency's interpretation is given deference by the courts who are the co-equal branch of government with the constitutional authority to be the final voice on interpreting statutes (laws). Incident thereto, we shared the following quotes from case law with our students:
It is well settled that “[a]n agency's interpretation of its own regulation ‘is entitled to deference if that interpretation is not irrational or unreasonable’” &
“the question is one of pure statutory reading and analysis, dependent only on accurate apprehension of legislative intent, there is little basis to rely on any special competence or expertise of the  administrative agency and its interpretive regulations... And, of course, if the regulation runs counter to the clear wording of a statutory provision, it should not be accorded any weight.”
Oh, do we expect a legal battle on this issue. Stay tuned. It's going to get entertaining fast.

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