The Ethics Complaint Process

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 many want to consider filing an ethics complaint. You will want to keep in mind that only REALTORS® and REALTOR-ASSOCIATE®s are subject to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS®.

Click here to read the full 2017 REALTORS® Code of Ethics.Click here for the Ethics Complaint Form.

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. Alternative dispute resolution methods, including mediation and arbitration may be available through the local board or association to resolve financial or contract questions unrelated to ethical concerns.

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.

The REALTORS® Code of Ethics consists of seventeen Articles. The duties imposed by many of the Articles are explained and illustrated through accompanying Standards of Practice or case interpretations.

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 association of Realtors®’ Grievance Committee may provide technical assistance in preparing a complaint in proper form and with proper content.

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.