Only brokers can have manager or supervisor titles

State clarifies role of associate broker at REBNY request

From left: Michael Barbolla, Neil Garfinkel and Alfred Fazio
From left: Michael Barbolla, Neil Garfinkel and Alfred Fazio

If associate brokers want an oversight role as a manager or supervisor at a firm, they must upgrade to a broker license first, according to another clarification of the state’s real estate law.

The state’s initial crackdown on titles in April barred hundreds of brokers from using elevated titles such as vice president, senior vice president or director if they did not own shares in their respective firms.

Widespread anger prompted the Real Estate Board of New York, through general counsel Neil Garfinkel, to go back to the state for more guidance. Garfinkel received a response late last week from the Department of State associate attorney Whitney Clark, who made clear that only a broker – not an associate broker or salesperson – can be a corporate officer and can be “involved in the management, supervision or control of the brokerage company.”

“I think this letter does a very good job of clarifying some of the open questions that had been lingering about the use of titles,” Garfinkel said. “We now know who can have a corporate title.”

State law also defines the manager of a branch office as an associate broker, a position that Michael Barbolla holds at Charles Rutenberg Realty. Barbolla helps to manage roughly 500 employees from the brokerage’s sole office, which has desks for up to 20 brokers at a time.

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“When I started in real estate, a vice president title was something I was hoping to get,” said Barbolla, who sees his office manager title as an internal one. “But, when the dust settles in a couple months, it won’t be a big deal. We just have to do what the DOS tells us to do.”

A promotion from associate broker to broker comes with the obligation to supervise other agents. If, for example, an associate broker fails to have an agency disclosure form signed, the supervising broker would be fined as well, said Alfred Fazio, counsel for the Manhattan Association of Realtors.

Fazio expects the state will be less willing to negotiate fines if the broker has not complied with the title rules.

“It opens the door for the state to check everything out,” Fazio said, adding this could lead to more fines or possibly a suspended license for repeat offenders.

“If they want to get fined, that’s up to them,” he said.