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Copycat commission lawsuits filed in Florida, Pennsylvania

The two new lawsuits accuse state and local brokerages, MLSs and Realtor associations of price-fixing agent commissions

More home sellers on the East Coast are getting in on the commission lawsuit action.

Plaintiffs in Florida and Pennsylvania filed lawsuits on Monday, accusing real estate industry players of allegedly colluding to artificially inflate real estate agent commissions. Both lawsuits are seeking class-action status.

Similar to the other commission lawsuits, the latest two take aim at the National Association of Realtors’ Participation Rule, which requires the listing broker to make a blanket offer of compensation to the buyer’s broker to list the property on the MLS.

The Florida commission lawsuit was filed by Parker Holding Group, a Panama City-based firm that sold homes in March and August 2021, in Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the Florida Association of Realtors, the nation’s largest state Realtor group with 238,000 members, and 16 large local brokerages, with agent counts ranging from 655 to nearly 4,000. Brokerages named in the suit include The Keyes Company, LPT Realty, Charles Rutenberg Realty, Charles Rutenberg Realty-Orlando, United Realty Group, The K Company Realty, Florida Homes Realty & Mortgage, Dalton Wade, Avanti Way Realty, MVP Realty Associates, Florida Realty of Miami, Lifestyle International Realty, Watson Realty, Premiere Plus Realty, Future Home Realty and Michael Saunders & Company.

Like the other commission lawsuits, the Parker suit alleges that the defendants colluded “to impose, implement, and enforce anticompetitive restraints that cause home sellers in Florida to pay inflated commissions in connection with the sale of their homes.”

Because this is a state lawsuit, the complaint claims the alleged behavior is in violation of the Florida Antitrust Act of 1980 and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and not the Federal Sherman Antitrust Act.

The complaint names local Realtor associations, MLSs and the brokerages’ employees and agents as co-conspirators, accusing them of using their control over the state’s Realtor association-affiliated MLSs to impose rules from NAR that allegedly promote anticompetitive practices.

“In a raw demonstration of market power, the Florida Realtor MLSs overturn the natural order of a rational price system where home sellers and home buyers each separately bargain and pay for the services provided to each of them,” the complaint alleges.

The proposed class for the suit includes all Florida citizens who have sold a property through one of the state’s Realtor association-affiliated MLSs and paid a buyer broker commission between Dec. 4, 2019 and the present.

The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial, treble damages, coverage of the cost of the suit and a permanent injunction “to permanently enjoin and restrain Defendants from establishing the same or similar rules, policies, or practices as those challenged in this action in the future.”

In an email, Florida Realtors’ general counsel Juana Watkins wrote that the group denies these allegations.

“Florida Realtors will defend against this action,” Watkins wrote. “Florida Realtors® stands by the value of the professional expertise that its members provide to their clients. Going forward, Florida Realtors® does not comment on pending litigation.”

Juan Baixeras, the broker/owner of family-run Florida Realty of Miami, said he is hopeful that the state Realtor association will help him out and offer guidance.

“These allegations are absurd. It’s just law firms trying to cash in on the previous success of the other lawsuit,” he wrote in an email. “We have never fixed prices. Our commission has always been negotiable. We are a 100% commission office, we get paid a flat fee of $355 no matter what commission comes in. So, price fixing commissions would not help us at all, we would still make $355.”

Another commission lawsuit in Pennsylvania was filed by Homesellers Spring Way Center, John and Nancy Moratis and Nancy Wehrheim in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Defendants in the suit include West Penn MLS, a local broker-owned MLS that is not affiliated with NAR, and eight local brokerages, including Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty, NRT Philadelphia LLC, Piatt Sotheby’s International Realty, NextHome PPM Realty, NextHome Dynamic, Realty One Group Gold Standard, Realty One Group Platinum and Realty One Group Horizon.

Despite not being affiliated with a Realtor association, West Penn MLS has adopted a rule similar to NAR’s Participation Rule.

The complaint alleges that the rule is anticompetitive because “it compels the seller to compensate the broker representing the purchaser even though that broker should be working for the purchaser, not the seller; it mandates a ‘blanket offer,’ meaning that the same compensation must be offered to every buyer’s broker, regardless of skill, experience, or the services provided; and it has the effect of encouraging ‘steering’ by buyer-brokers, because it incentivizes them to direct their clients to properties with higher commission offers.”

The Center suit complaint cites the Sitzer/Burnett case, stating that the defendants’ alleged practices “are not unique; rather, they are part and parcel of nation-wide collusion within the real estate industry to maintain inflated commissions.”

The lawsuit also names co-conspirators, including “local and state Realtor associations,” as well as “other brokerages within that geographic area.”

The proposed class for the lawsuit includes all home sellers who used a listing agent or broker affiliated with or employed by one of the brokerage defendants in the sale of a home listed on the West Penn MLS, and who paid a commission to the buyer’s broker.

This suit also demands a jury trial, treble damages, coverage of the cost of the suit and a permanent injunction “enjoining Defendants from (1) requiring that sellers pay the buyer broker and (2) continuing to restrict competition among residential real estate brokers in the manner set forth above,” according to court records.

The two new commission lawsuits are just the latest in an ever-growing pile of copycat cases that have been filed since late October when a Missouri jury found the real estate industry liable for colluding to artificially inflate agent commissions in the Sitzer/Burnett trial. A motion for injunctive relief has yet to be filed in that lawsuit and a final ruling from the judge is not expected until spring 2024.

Editor’s note: HousingWire reached out to all of the defendants in the latest lawsuits for comment and will update this story as comments are returned.

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