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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Jerry Seinfeld and the Shabbat-observant realtor

From Arutz Sheva:
American Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld was ordered by the court to pay a Sabbath-observant realtor her fee, which he withheld due to her not having answered her phone on Saturday.

The realtor, Tamara Cohen, was unavailable when Seinfeld tried to reach her on a Saturday in February, 2005, according to the New York Post. The comedian and star of the highly successful sitcom bearing his name wanted to see a luxury apartment on 82nd street but could not get in touch with Cohen.

Seinfeld’s estate manager had visited the apartment with Cohen in January 2005, when the listing broker for the townhouse agreed to co-broke the house with her. On Friday, February 11, the estate manager and Seinfeld’s wife Jessica were shown the property by Cohen again. The next day, after Cohen did not answer her cell phone due to it being the Sabbath, the Seinfelds visited the apartment on their own, buying the home for $3.95 million without a broker.

Seinfeld testified that Cohen did not deserve the payment as she had been unavailable when he and his wife wanted to see the home. Both Seinfelds said they had not known the reason Cohen did not return their calls was that she was a Sabbath-observant Jew.

New York State Supreme Court justice Rolando Acosta ruled that the Seinfelds must pay Cohen at least $98,000 for her role as co-broker – a ruling that is seen as a positive defense of religious worship for Sabbath observers.

Acosta said that notwithstanding Cohen's failure to immediately return the Seinfelds' calls, "[T]he evidence clearly indicates that she served as the Seinfelds' real estate broker."

"The only real issue here . . . is whether the broker's fee was 5 or 6 percent," Acosta said, meaning Cohen may get as much as $118,500.

Richard Menaker of Menaker & Hermann, the law firm that represented the Seinfelds, said he intends to move to re-argue. "Not a single one of the [six] arguments we made was addressed," Menaker said, according to Law.com. "At the oral argument I pointed out that Ms. Cohen is not licensed. You can only recover on an oral agreement if you're a licensed real-estate broker," he added. Cohen’s lawyer said that she is in fact licensed and that the court apparently agreed.

I'm no expert on real estate law, but I believe that if she is a licensed broker and was the broker for that property she indeed deserves the money. In fact, it is considered very bad form (if not illegal) to bypass the broker and make a deal for a property that the broker represents.

The fact that they saw the house with Cohen on Friday solidified her position as a listing broker for the property, so it sounds to me like the judge did the right thing.

The next question is - if Seinfeld found out that the broker was at a funeral, or out of town for a day, or that her phone was broken - would he have fought paying the fee?