This article is part of an ongoing series covering violations of real estate law. Here, the Department of Real Estate (DRE) revoked the real estate license of a broker who failed to adequately supervise the activities of his staff as his unlicensed assistants were contracting and negotiating with principals in real estate transactions. 

In September 2022, the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) decided by default decision to revoke the license of Earl Ivan Briones, a broker since 1992 operating out of Los Angeles, California. The decision became effective March 2023.

In April 2020, the DRE received a complaint from a buyer regarding Briones’ real estate business, Briones Realty. The buyer claimed Briones Realty failed to return their $6,000 good-faith deposit on a cancelled transaction to purchase property.

According to the buyer, their only Briones Realty points of contact who represented them in their attempt to purchase real estate was Alma Dagnino and Eduardo Espiritu — both unlicensed by the DRE. Dagnino and Espiritu both unlawfully conducted activities requiring a license, including:

  • negotiating and arranging sales terms;
  • coordinating mortgage financing and property viewings; and
  • facilitating escrow activities.

The buyer made an offer to purchase a property in Riverside in June 2019 on a purchase agreement prepared by Dagnino. The buyers agent listed in the purchase agreement was Vishundyal Ramotar Mohabir, one of Briones’ licensed agents.

The buyer put a $5,000 good faith deposit on the property as instructed by Dagnino and was told the funds would be wired to escrow within three business days.

However, escrow was cancelled and the buyer requested their deposit back. Dagnino told the buyer the only way to get their money back would be to purchase another property.

The buyer made an offer to purchase another property in Riverside in October 2019. The good faith deposit of $1,000 was to be wired to escrow within three business days.

The seller counteroffered with a request for a $7,000 deposit. The buyer accepted. The buyer wired $1,000 to escrow and assumed the $5,000 they previously paid on the prior property applies to their purchase. Instead, the only deposit escrow ever received was the $1,000 the buyer directly wired.

In March 2020, the buyer filed a complaint with the DRE which commenced an investigation. Briones told the DRE Espiritu was an employee of his licensed agent, Mohabir. He also claimed to be entirely unfamiliar with anyone named Dagnino. He maintained that his licensed employees are the only ones showing properties to clients and only Mohabir performs negotiations on transactions, not unlicensed employees of Mohabir.

Nonetheless, the DRE found Briones violated real estate laws and regulations relating to broker supervision since he is responsible for the supervision and control of the activities conducted by his officers and employees, and is expected to exercise reasonable supervision over the activities of his salespersons. [Calif. Business and Professions Code §10159.2; DRE Regulations §2725]

Further, he allowed unlicensed staff to conduct activities requiring a license. [Bus & P C §10130]

Briones’ license was subsequently revoked, along with the salesperson license of Mohabir. [Bus & P C §§10177(g), 10177(h)]

Bad actors

It is unlawful for any person to assume to act or engage in the business of a real estate broker or agent without first obtaining the proper real estate license from the DRE. [Bus & P C §10130]

Whether Dagnino and Espiritu will face charges depends on the Los Angeles or Riverside County district attorneys, who are responsible for prosecuting such violations in the counties where the violations occur. [Bus & P C §10130]

The situation that unfolded at Briones Realty was indicative of a cascading ripple of misconduct. The unlicensed assistants were not properly supervised by the agent who hired them to conduct mechanical and nondiscretionary unlicensed activities. But the liability does not stop there. Also at fault was the one responsible for supervising them all — their employing broker.

Brokers need to have policies and systems in place to monitor and review their agents’ activities, including the solicitation of buyers and sellers and the negotiation of real estate transactions. [DRE Regs. §2725]

Brokers are ultimately responsible for all the activities of their agents performed within the course and scope of their employment with the broker — the buck stops with the broker, always. [Gipson v. Davis Realty Company (1963) 215 CA2d 190]

Brokers may assign tasks to their unlicensed employees, such as:

  • handling documents;
  • performing tenant-related functions;
  • canvassing for prospective clients;
  • opening a property to third-party service providers; and
  • communicating with parties to a transaction.

However, all unlicensed personnel performing on the broker’s behalf need to do so with the broker’s permission and their activities continuously supervised. [DRE Real Estate Bulletin, Winter 1993]

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