DOJ Withdraws From Settlement Agreement Regarding MLS Rules

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on July 1 it was withdrawing from a settlement it had reached with the National Association of REALTORS® last November in order “to permit a broader investigation of NAR’s rules and conduct to proceed without restriction.”

The U.S. Justice Department has also filed to voluntarily dismiss its complaint against NAR without prejudice. The department stated in an announcement that it determined the settlement “will not adequately protect the department’s rights to investigate other conduct by NAR that could impact competition in the real estate market and may harm home sellers and home buyers.”

“The proposed settlement will not sufficiently protect the Antitrust Division’s ability to pursue future claims against NAR,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Real estate is central to the American economy and consumers pay billions of dollars in real estate commissions every year. We cannot be bound by a settlement that prevents our ability to protect competition in a market that profoundly affects Americans’ financial well-being.”

The National Association of REALTORS® released a statement from 2021 President, Charlie Oppler in reaction to the U.S. Justice Department’s actions, which stated that the withdrawal from the settlement was a “complete, unprecedented breach of an agreement” that had been reached with the DOJ’s Antitrust Division.

“Grounded in our commitment to act in the best interests of buyers and sellers, we regularly update our rules and policies to protect consumers and provide transparency.” “NAR has fulfilled all of our obligations under the settlement agreement and now DOJ is inexplicably backing out. If the department does not live up to its commitments under the terms of the agreement, we are confident in our pro-consumer and pro-competition policies.”

The Department of Justice explained that in its complaint and settlement filed on Nov. 19, 2020 that it alleged NAR had established and enforced certain rules and policies that illegally restrained competition in residential real estate services. The proposed settlement sought to remedy those illegal practices and encourage greater competition among Realtors, but it also prevented the department from pursuing other antitrust claims relating to NAR’s rules.

The department stated that it sought NAR’s agreement to modify the settlement to adequately protect and preserve the department’s rights to investigate and challenge additional conduct by NAR, but the department and NAR could not reach an agreement.” Because the settlement resolved only some of the department’s concerns with NAR’s rules, this step ensures that the department can continue to enforce the antitrust laws in this important market,” the DOJ stated.