Appendix X to Part Four: Before You File an Ethics Complaint Background Boards and Associations of REALTORS® are responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics imposes duties above and in addition to those imposed by law or regulation which apply only to real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS® . Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstanding, miscommunication, or lack of adequate communication. If you have a problem with a real estate professional, you may want to speak with them or with a principal broker in the firm. Open, constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences, eliminating the need for further action. If, after discussing matters with your real estate professional or a principal broker in that firm, you are still not satisfied, you may want to contact the local Board or Association of REALTORS® . Many Boards and Associations have informal dispute resolving processes available to consumers (e.g., ombudsmen, mediation, etc.). If, after taking these steps, you still feel you have a grievance, you may want to consider filing an ethics complaint.
You will want to keep in mind that . . .
• Only REALTORS® are subject to the Code of Ethics of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® .
• If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are dealing with is not a REALTOR® , your only recourse may be the state real estate licensing authority or the courts.
• Boards and Associations of REALTORS® determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate regulations have been broken. Those decisions can only be made by the licensing authorities or the courts.
• Boards of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for violating the Code of Ethics. Typical forms of discipline include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase REALTORS® ’ understanding of the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership can be suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Boards and Associations of REALTORS® cannot require REALTORS® to pay money to parties filing ethics complaints; cannot award “punitive damages” for violations of the Code of Ethics; and cannot suspend or revoke a real estate professional’s license.
• The primary emphasis of discipline for ethical lapses is educational, to create a heightened awareness of and appreciation for the duties the Code imposes. At the same time, more severe forms of discipline, including fines and suspension and termination of membership may be imposed for serious or repeated violations. Filing an Ethics Complaint The local Board or Association of REALTORS® can provide you with information on the procedures for filing an ethics complaint. Here are some general principles to keep in mind.
• Ethics complaints must be filed with the local Board or Association of REALTORS® within one hundred eighty (180) days from the time a complainant knew (or reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct took place (unless the Board’s informal dispute resolution processes are invoked, in which case the filing deadline will momentarily be suspended). • The REALTORS® Code of Ethics consists of seventeen (17) Articles. The duties imposed by many of the Articles are explained and illustrated through accompanying Standards of Practice or case interpretations. National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual
• Your complaint should include a narrative description of the circumstances that lead you to believe the Code of Ethics may have been violated.
• Your complaint must cite one or more of the Articles of the Code of Ethics which may have been violated. Hearing Panels decide whether the Articles expressly cited in complaints were violated—not whether Standards of Practice or case interpretations were violated.
• The local Board or Associations of REALTORS® ’ Grievance Committee may provide technical assistance in preparing a complaint in proper form and with proper content. Before the Hearing
• Your complaint will be reviewed by the local Board or Association’s Grievance Committee. Their job is to review complaints to determine if the allegations made, if taken as true, might support a violation of the Article(s) cited in the complaint.
• If the Grievance Committee dismisses your complaint, it does not mean they do not believe you. Rather, it means that they do not feel that your allegations would support a Hearing Panel’s conclusion that the Article(s) cited in your complaint had been violated. You may want to review your complaint to see if you cited an Article appropriate to your allegations.
• If the Grievance Committee forwards your complaint for hearing, that does not mean they have decided the Code of Ethics has been violated. Rather, it means they feel that if what you allege in your complaint is found to have occurred by the Hearing Panel, that panel may have reason to find that a violation of the Code of Ethics occurred.
• If your complaint is dismissed as not requiring a hearing, you can appeal that dismissal to the Board of Directors of the local Board or Association of REALTORS® . Preparing for the Hearing • Familiarize yourself with the hearing procedures that will be followed. In particular you will want to know about challenging potential panel members, your right to counsel, calling witnesses, and the burdens and standards of proof that apply.
• Complainants have the ultimate responsibility (“burden”) of proving that the Code of Ethics has been violated. The standard of proof that must be met is “clear, strong and convincing,” defined as “. . . that measure or degree of proof which will produce a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be established.” Consistent with American jurisprudence, respondents are considered innocent unless proven to have violated the Code of Ethics.
• Be sure that your witnesses and counsel will be available on the day of the hearing. Continuances are a privilege—not a right. • Be sure you have all the documents and other evidence you need to present your case. • Organize your presentation in advance. Know what you are going to say and be prepared to demonstrate what happened and how you believe the Code of Ethics was violated. At the Hearing
• Appreciate that panel members are unpaid volunteers giving their time as an act of public service. Their objective is to be fair, unbiased, and impartial; to determine, based on the evidence and testimony presented to them, what actually occurred; and then to determine whether the facts as they find them support a finding that the Article(s) charged have been violated.
• Hearing Panels cannot conclude that an Article of the Code has been violated unless that Article(s) is specifically cited in the complaint. •
Keep your presentation concise, factual, and to the point. Your task is to demonstrate what happened (or what should have happened but did not), and how the facts support a violation of the Article(s) charged in the complaint.