Department of Consumer Affairs Secretary Michael Pierluisi confirmed the agency fined some 20 Puerto Rico-based realtors for, among other things, advertising properties for sale online that are not available to attract consumers to try to sell them another property, or click-bating.
This practice constitutes a violation of the Regulations Against Deceptive Practices and Ads and Act. No. 10 of April 26, 1994, as amended, known as the “Act to Regulate the Real Estate Industry, Broker and Seller professions, and Real Estate Companies in Puerto Rico.”
Under Rule 7 of the Act, a deceptive practice is defined as “advertising a good or service for sale and not having it available.” In addition, Rule 17 of the Regulations for the Sale of Properties located within and outside of Puerto Rico, states that “Sellers, brokers, real estate consultants and owners that advertise directly or indirectly in Puerto Rico, will be obligated to fully comply with provisions of the Deceptive Practices and Ads” regulation.
On several occasions, the pictures of the properties did not correspond to the reality and the advertised price was incorrect, Pierluisi said.
In other cases, the ads did not have the complete information required by law, such as the name of the broker and the license to operate, thereby failing to comply with Act. No. 10, which says it is illegal to “use in any advertising or media promotion only a phone number and/or address, without indicating the name of the broker or company and the number of the license to operate.”
“The investigation by the Department included more than 50 realtors. A large number of brokers advertise or maintain existing property listings they know are not available for sale for the sole purpose of attracting more customers,” Pierluisi said.
“When the consumer calls, they are told the property they are asking about is not available, but will begin to offer others,” he said. “This is a practice that has been increasing, particularly with the proliferation of digital platforms that offers properties in Puerto Rico and we will continue our oversight.”
“A few months ago, I brought the concern to the Board of Brokers, Dealers and Real Estate Companies, which issue licenses for the profession. I anticipated that I would be taking action against this practice that affects consumers,” he said.
“These fines will be referred to the Board, so they can conduct their own investigation and take appropriate action, including the possible suspension of licenses,” Pierluisi added.