A group of black real estate agents and brokers has sued the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, charging it with racial discrimination and antitrust violations for limiting access to computerized home sales listings.
Real Estate Brokers of Baltimore Inc., formed in 1947 when blacks were barred from all-white realty associations, filed suit Friday against the board, one of the oldest real estate trade groups in the nation.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore accuses the board of monopolizing real estate sales in violation of federal antitrust and fair housing laws.
The suit challenges rules that limit multiple listing services to designated Realtors or to members of a Realtors board -- in Baltimore or elsewhere -- that exists as a franchisee of the National Association of Realtors.
The multiple listing service is run by by Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc. (MARIT), a subsidiary of the Baltimore Board of Realtors.
The service, used in about 650 brokers' offices in Baltimore and four surrounding counties, lists almost all resale homes on the market, typically thousands at a given time, by price, description and location. It is one of the oldest and largest multiple listing services on the East Coast and the only one to serve the entire Baltimore metropolitan area.
Real Estate Brokers of Baltimore Inc. is a local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the oldest and largest minority trade association in America, according to the .. organization. It is made up of agents, brokers other industry professionals who call themselves Realtists, a linguistic remnant from days when blacks were not permitted to be Realtors.
The 257-member Real Estate Brokers offers many of the same services as the Board of Realtors -- specialized training, counseling, seminars and regional conferences -- as well as similar requirements for membership, the suit says.
But the group does not have its own listing service. Someone who chooses to join the association must also join a Realtors board, paying additional fees, to gain access to the multiple listing service.
Four real estate brokers joined with the association as plaintiffs in the suit, which seeks membership in MARIT as well as compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff. Plaintiffs include James Crockett of James Crockett Realty Co.; Arnold H. Sampson of Capitol Realty Co.; H. Bernie Jackson of Bernett & Jackson Realty; and Michael Cassell of Creative Real Estate Services Inc. and Century 21 Progressive Real Estate Inc.
Mr. Cassell, president of Real Estate Brokers of Baltimore, referred all questions to the plaintiffs' attorney, Charles G. Byrd Jr., a partner in Baltimore-based Brown, Alston & Byrd.
Mr. Byrd said many Realtists are forced to pay more than three times as much in fees or face putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The Real Estate Brokers charge $175 annually in principal brokers dues, while GBBR charges $354 for annual state, local and national fees, he said.
"That has resulted either in membership in both at a substantial cost, or deciding not to become a member in the black organization because of the cost," Mr. Byrd said. "Some members of the black organization have not joined GBBR and have suffered because they don't have access to the multiple listing.
"It has the effect of discriminating," Mr. Byrd said. "The injury to these black brokers and agents is getting to the point where they had no choice. They are constantly losing customers."
In addition, Mr. Byrd charged, the limits on multiple listing access violate federal fair housing laws because they put black home-sellers at a disadvantage. Also, he said, the restrictions violate antitrust laws.
"The suit is more than just a racial claim," he said.
The lawsuit stems from an attempt by Mr. Crockett to apply for membership in MARIT, formerly the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service (CMMLS).
In a June 7 letter to Mr. Crockett, Warren M. Tunkel, executive vice president of the multiple listing service, turned down his request.
"Since, as shown by your application, you are not a "Designated Realtor or a non-resident member" of any . . . boards/associations of Realtors you are not eligible for membership in CMMLS," Mr. Tunkel wrote. "If, however, you become a Designated Realtor member or a non-resident member of one of the above mentioned Boards/Associations of Realtors CMMLS would welcome your applying for participant membership."
Mr. Tunkel, named as a defendant in the suit, was in California yesterday at the National Association of Realtors annual convention and could not be reached for comment.
Attempts to reach other officials of MARIT and officers of the board also were unsuccessful.