Real estate regulators confronted about 'secret' residency rule

 April 7, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

An unwritten rule adopted by the Mississippi Real Estate Commission requires real estate salespeople to live within an hour of their supervising broker, or roughly 50 miles, just so the broker can keep tabs on them.

But the Institute for Justice has written a letter challenging that standard, which essentially is a staff interpretation of a rule concerning those supervisory responsibilities and is not written down.

The issue is that with modern technology, brokers have options with a long list of ways of keeping tabs on sales representatives without having them in the same room.

A letter from the IJ to real estate commissioners Vicki Blackwell, Brian Gomillion, Anthony Jones, Joe Stedman, and James Stroo explains, "Conditioning approval of licenses on the applicant’s proximity to their designated broker is unfair, irrational in the Zoom era, and unconstitutional."

The legal team explained, "The 50-Mile Requirement Burdens the Right to Pursue an Occupation. For over a century, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that '[t]he right to follow any of the common occupations of life is an inalienable right.' Since then, the Mississippi Supreme Court has guarded that right zealously. For instance, it recently struck down irrational licensing restrictions that prevented anyone ever convicted of a felony from becoming a bail agent."

That state tribunal found, "A person’s God-given, constitutional liberty to engage in a profession should not so easily be extinguished by the government."

The letter suggested the "one-hour-drive requirement is unconstitutional for the same reason: it denies applicants their 'inalienable' right to pursue an occupation for no good reason. To be sure, IJ is not questioning the requirement that brokers supervise their licensees. But the commission has provided no rationale for requiring brokers to do so from within an hour’s drive."

The IJ concludes that the requirement violates the state constitution.

The rule is on shaky ground, as it isn't a formal rule, just a "staff interpretation."

"We live in a digital age where geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant, especially in professional settings," explained Aritt Davis, of REAL Broker LLC in Pascagoula. "This rule not only limits the freedom of real estate professionals but also hinders the growth and dynamism of our firm and the overall industry. In an era where flexibility and connectivity are key, such a geographical restriction is not just outdated, it’s a significant financial and arbitrary impediment."

Further, the letter explains the MREC applies the rule unevenly., rejecting applicants who are willing to travel to be supervised or using Zoom while approving others who don't meet that requirement.

"For over a century, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that Mississippians have an 'inalienable' right to pursue the profession of their choice," said IJ lawyer Michael Soyfer. "Yet, the commission’s one-hour-drive rule places an unnecessary stumbling block in the path of would-be real estate salespeople trying to do just that."

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