The Real Deal:
Like many New Yorkers who have had bad experiences with real estate agents, Tanya Mejia took to Yelp in September 2014 to give brokerage Chrome Residential a one-star review. “Not only are these guys unprofessional, but they are crooks,” she wrote. “Do yourself a favor and stay clear of this company.”
To retrieve a $2,000 security deposit from her broker, she then went to Small Claims Court and obtained a judgment against Chrome, which the broker refused to pay unless she removed her Yelp review, according to a New York Department of State investigation. Mejia then filed a consumer complaint with the DOS, and finally, more than two years after the initial incident, an administrative law judge revoked the real estate broker’s license in September 2016.
But as far as the state’s public database of licensing decisions is concerned, this never happened. A search for the agent’s name (“Jacob Benchlouch”) only turns up two duplicate files for an earlier dismissed complaint, omitting any record that he was sanctioned for “engaging in deceptive acts and practices.” (Benchlouch could not be reached for comment and Chrome Residential is no longer in operation.)
To protect the interests of New York’s consumers, the DOS’ Division of Licensing Services regulates a number of professions, including real estate brokers and salespersons, by handing down fines, suspensions and revoking licenses as it deems necessary. But because the agency uses rudimentary public disclosure tools that are difficult to navigate and often incomplete, it is difficult for consumers to identify sanctioned brokers, leaving open the possibility that they will harm another consumer.