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By Ellen Yan

RISMEDIA, August 20, 2008-(MCT)-Misdemeanor sex offenders will now be barred from getting real estate agent and broker licenses under a new New York state law.

“It is a safety and security issue for homeowners to know that the person serving them as a professional is really a professional and is not a predator,” Mohsen Zandieh, president of the Long Island Board of Realtors, said yesterday.

Felons have almost always been barred from getting state licenses-unless they won administrative hearings or got pardoned-but when it came to misdemeanors, including sex-related offenses, the New York State Department of State, which oversees licensing, had more flexibility in licensing. One big problem, critics noted, is that felony charges are often bumped down to misdemeanors in plea bargaining.

The measure, which took effect Aug. 5 when it was signed by Gov. David A. Paterson, closes what many see as a loophole in the real estate law on misdemeanor sex convictions. It also calls for agents and brokers to report felony and misdemeanor sex convictions within five days; before, they were asked to report them when they applied for license renewal, which could be two years later.

The New York State Association of Realtors pushed for the change and Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) introduced the bill in 2007.

It’s not clear how many agents and brokers currently have misdemeanor sex offenses on their records, but they’ll retain their licenses until renewal time. Even then, reporting of convictions is voluntary.

Fuschillo said if state officials find out on their own about sex-related misdemeanors, the licenses will be taken away. But that can be difficult because agents and brokers applying for licenses don’t submit fingerprints, which can be checked against the crime databases.

“We closed the loophole going forward,” the senator said. “Now it’s up to the department of state to ensure that the law is adhered to.”

Zandieh said some homeowners have allowed agents to show properties with only the children, say a teenager, in the house. Sometimes, homeowners working several jobs have little option but to have the house shown without them, he noted, adding: “We are not in a position to judge the homeowner.”

Copyright © 2008, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.