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N.D.Ga.: Apartment Broker, Whose Customers Were The Apartment Homes And Not Renters, Not A “Retail Establishment” Subject To 7(i) Exemption Of The FLSA

Russell v. Promove, LLC

This case was before the Court on all parties’ motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs had cross-moved for summary judgment, seeking a finding from the Court that Defendant, an apartment broker, was not a “retail” establishment, subject to the 7(i) exemption of the FLSA as a matter of law. Granting this branch of Plaintiffs’ Motion, the Court stated, in part:

“A retail or service establishment is defined as “an establishment 75 per centum of whose annual dollar volume of sales of goods or services (or of both) is not for resale and is recognized as retail sales or services in the particular industry.”29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(2) (1988); 29 C.F.R § 779.312. First, Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants’ business is not regarded as retail and that such a concept cannot be artificially created in an industry that lacks a traditional concept of retail and servicing.; Schussler v. Employment Consultants, 333 F.Supp. 1387, 1390 (N.D.Ill.1971). Plaintiffs argued that the “mom and pop” type shops which conduct similar business to the Defendants do not comprise an apartment locator industry. In response, Defendants assert that when Defendant Todd White founded the predecessor of ProMove in 1990, he relied on industry standards to determine employee payment and commission structure.

The record before the Court sufficiently establishes the nature of ProMove’s business to allow the Court to reach a conclusion regarding the claimed exemption. Though the parties disagree as to the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, the underlying facts are largely undisputed. Prospective renters come into ProMove’s business locations and receive referrals to apartment homes. These renters pay nothing for the referral. ProMove’s compensation, if any, comes from the apartment homes if the prospective renter chooses the apartment, identifies ProMove as the referral source, and pays the first month’s rent. Based on the undisputed facts, the Court concludes that the apartment homes are ProMove’s customers. The payment for ProMove’s service comes entirely from the apartment homes. The fact that the payment is not made until the first month’s rent is paid does not alter the fact that the payment is from the apartment home. ProMove’s business serves the apartment homes as its customers, not the general public.

Also, the Court finds that ProMove’s business is closely akin to a broker. Even though ProMove does not have the authority to negotiate terms of the lease agreements, it serves the function of bringing the landlords and tenants together much as a real estate agent would do in a real estate transaction. Such businesses have been identified by the DOL as lacking the retail concept. 29 C.F.R. § 779.317. Also, its brokering function occurs prior to the “very end of the stream of distribution,” and thus, does not meet the examples of retail and service establishments provided by the DOL. 29 C.F.R. § 779.318.

Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that Defendants failed to prove the applicability of the Section 7(i) retail or service establishment exemption. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to Defendants’ retail or service exemption defense is GRANTED.”