|The Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), the
body that regulates the conduct of real estate agents, has served notice
on Ontario brokers and agents that it will not tolerate racial or
religious discrimination within the real estate industry.
The incident, which resulted in a recent discipline decision from
RECO, took place in Guelph at the end of last year.
Peter Ysselstein, a sales agent with ReMax Realty Specialists Inc. in
Guelph, distributed a flyer to a number of residences in the city
promoting his services.
The two-sided brochure encouraged potential customers to call him for
a free market evaluation and assistance in buying or selling homes.
On the back of the flyer was the heading: "Assumptions are often
wrong and are wrong." This was followed by a list of a series of
innocuous assumptions or misconceptions, most of them based on music.
The came the zinger: "And one last assumption," Ysselstein wrote.
"Does the `stein' in my name automatically make me Jewish? Don't let the
`stein' stop you from calling me for a free Home Value Estimate!"
Distribution of the brochure caused a storm of controversy in Guelph
and elsewhere, and led to articles in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the
Guelph Mercury and the Canadian Jewish News.
Betty Wickett, a board member at a local synagogue, was quoted as
saying she was shocked at the pamphlet and insulted at the implication
that people in the community would use religion as criteria for selling
their homes. B'nai B'rith Canada issued a press release denouncing the
After a number of complaints were received by RECO and the ReMax
office, Ysselstein took out an ad in a local newspaper and apologized to
his "many friends and acquaintances."
But the word `Jewish' did not appear in the text and there was no
specific apology to the Jewish community.
Eventually, a discipline charge was laid against Ysselstein by RECO.
It alleged a breach of RECO's code of ethics by the agent for
distinguishing himself from a religious group in an advertisement and
using that distinction as a reason why consumers should do business with
The hearing took place in Toronto on May 28 before a three-member
panel consisting of Arthur Bartram, Michael Spagat and Victor Kerman.
No evidence was heard, since Ysselstein signed an acknowledgment of
his conduct and an undertaking to publish an apology to the real estate
industry, as well as to enrol in a B'nai Brith Canada course called
Taking Action Against Hate.
After hearing submissions from Ysselstein's counsel, Michael Birley,
the discipline panel ruled that the publication and distribution of the
advertisement was professional misconduct.
Ysselstein was placed on probation as an agent for two years, and
ordered to pay costs of $800.
ReMax Realty Specialists also had its knuckles rapped for failing to
adequately supervise the advertising activities of Ysselstein. The panel
said ReMax should have made clear to its agents that no advertisement be
published or distributed without approval of the managers of the
The company was reprimanded and hit with an administrative fine of
$2,000 and costs of $900.
Following the expiry of the appeal period in July, Inman News
Features, one of the world's largest real estate news services,
distributed the story internationally. Inman has 150 newspaper
subscribers and 10,000 affiliated Web sites.
Shortly after the RECO decision, Ysselstein took out an ad in the
trade paper REM (Real Estate Magazine) and apologized to the real estate
community at large for his advertisement, "which has been interpreted or
construed by some as being anti-Semitic.
"This was never my intention," he added. "I regret this very much and
am truly sorry for having offended."
Again, the ad contained no specific apology addressed to a religious
Ysselstein continues to work at ReMax Realty Specialists in Guelph,
but the controversy his case stirred up is far from over.
In March, he filed a counter-complaint against a Toronto real estate
broker who had filed a complaint against him with RECO and who was very
vocal in publicizing his complaints about Ysselstein's advertisement.
That agent, who happens to be Jewish, grew up in Guelph in the 1950s.
During his childhood, he remembers suffering physical and verbal attacks
because of his religion. That was why, he explained, the Ysselstein
advertisement disturbed him so deeply and prompted him to file a
passionate complaint with RECO.
Meanwhile, the counter-complaint with RECO is still hanging over his