click to enlarge
Tiffany Lewis helps renters and landlords find each other. Later this month, a jury in Platte County will consider the question of whether she needs a license to do the job.
Lewis is president of Kansas City Premier Apartments. Her company maintains a Web site that offers information about rental units. The apartment owners in the database pay a commission for referrals. "We don't charge the renter, ever," Lewis says.
In 2007, a Missouri state agency ordered Lewis to stop what she was
doing. A lawyer in the Division of Professional Registration said Kansas
City Premier Apartments was operating as a real-estate broker, a job
which requires a license.
Lewis is fighting the cease-and-desist order. Kansas City Premier Apartments filed a lawsuit against the state.
Lewis and her partner, Ryan Gran, also made a slick video. In the animated clip, a SWAT team from the Missouri Real Estate Commission descends on a coffee shop after a man offers to help a woman find a $700-a-month apartment.
Lewis says she and Gran made the video to build awareness. They believe the Missouri Real Estate Commission's actions represent a threat to free speech. "For me, this just isn't about me anymore," Lewis says.
This is not the first instance in which regulators and real estate-related websites have clashed. The founders of ForSaleByOwner.com challenged a California law requiring advertising companies to become licensed brokers. A federal judge ruled in favor of the website
In the cease-and-desist letter to Kansas City Premier Apartments, the Division of Professional Registration noted that state law defines a real estate broker as someone who "lists or offers or agrees to list real estate for sale, lease, rental or exchange." A broker is also defined as someone who "assists or directs in the procuring of prospects."
Lewis says Kansas City Premier Apartments is more like a concierge business than a real-estate brokerage. Lewis says her company provides information for people who have dogs and dinged credit; it does not escrow money or facilitate transactions.
"People have the option to listen to us or think we're full of it," she says.
Lewis believes the Missouri Real Estate Commission responded to a complaint from a competitor.
The trial is scheduled to begin on June 23.