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RISMEDIA, Dec. 17, 2007-Can you accept a holiday gift from another settlement provider who is in a position to refer business to you? Like everything involving RESPA, the answer is, “It depends.”

There is no $25 minimum (“de minimus”) amount that pertains to gift-giving in the RESPA statute or in Regulation X. When HUD and state enforcement agencies decide which cases to pursue, however, they will apply reasonable judgment to determine whether holiday gifts are significant enough to be linked to referrals or small enough to fall within the traditional business practice of thanking customers during the holidays.

You also must be aware that some states have statutes that do contain a specific dollar amount and you will have to consult your state law and regulations to ensure compliance. Generally, however, here are a few easy holiday examples:

The answer is “no, you cannot accept the gift” if the gift is:

A new Lexus
An all-expense paid excursion to exotic Timbuktu
Season tickets to the Dodgers

The answer is “yes, you can accept the gift” if the gift is:

A small desk calendar
A Starbucks coupon for a cup of coffee
A delicious fruitcake

But the answer is more difficult, for instance, if you receive a bottle of wine. You might want to inquire into the value of the particular bottle before accepting the gift. A $15 dollar bottle of wine at the holidays is probably fine, but a rare $500 dollar bottle or a full case of wine would be considered a RESPA violation if you referred business during the course of the previous year to the gift giver.

One final guide is whether the same gift is being given to every Realtor office in town, regardless of whether the office referred business to the gift-giver. Such blanket gift-giving would be less likely to be considered a RESPA violation.

In the end, your sense of whether a particular gift is tied to referrals or simply a small gesture of appreciation during the holidays is your best guide

For more information, visit http://www.realtor.org

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