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Legislators: Regulators have not asked for money to hire more investigators

Florida regulators repeatedly blame the Legislature for not being able to hire more investigators and lawyers to tackle the backlog in investigations of unscrupulous real estate professionals.

The problem: Those regulators have not asked legislators to stop sweeping money from trust funds that would pay for more employees.

Legislators are baffled.

"If they don't tell us they need the money, how are we supposed to know?" asked State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, a longtime Realtor in southwest Florida. "No one has come forward."

The Legislature has emptied $9.7 million from a Division of Real Estate trust fund since 2008 to help with state budget shortfalls. Real estate license fees and fines go into the trust fund, not tax dollars. The fees and fines are paid by the more than 300,000 industry workers.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he doesn't understand why regulators have remained silent, adding: "I am not aware of anyone asking not to cut any further."

Ken Lawson, who heads the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the parent agency of the Division of Real Estate, would not say why the agency hasn't asked legislators to stop sweeping money.

"The sweeps are outside of the purview of the department," said Lawson, who took the job in May.

Lawson pledged to reduce complaints and lengthy investigations. But when asked if the agency requested more money for investigators in next year's budget, he said, "I don't think so."

As complaints and investigations await review, the lag allows shoddy real estate practitioners to harm even more consumers.

Members of the Florida Real Estate Commission, the body that disciplines real estate professionals, have repeatedly said leaving just $1 million in the trust fund would allow investigators and lawyers to be hired on contract for several years to cut into the backlog.

Roger Enzor, a 42-year real estate veteran, is urging DBPR officials to ask the Legislature for smaller sweeps.

"We'd be able to fund the enforcement," he said. "We could get rid of this backlog."

Chip Boring, a 32-year Realtor, said enforcement is one of the biggest issues facing industry members. He'd like to see more lobbying of the Legislature by the Florida Realtors on the money sweeps.

"One bad apple ruins it for all of us," he said. "'This is something that needs to be addressed."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Legislators: Regulators have not asked for money to hire more investigators 11/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 25, 2011 6:39pm]
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