Before You File an
Many difficulties between real estate
professionals 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.).
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
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® and REALTOR Associates®
are subject to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of
If the real estate professional or 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
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 (17) Articles. The duties imposed by many of the Articles are
explained and illustrated through accompanying Standards of Practice or
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
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
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. 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.
Hearing panels base their decisions on
the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. If you have
information relevant to the issue(s) under consideration, be sure to
bring it up during your presentation.
Recognize that different people can
witness the same event and have differing recollections about what they
saw. The fact that a respondent or their witness recalls things
differently does not mean they are not telling the truth as they recall
events. It is up to the hearing panel, in the findings of fact that will
be part of their decision, to determine what actually happened.
The hearing panel will pay careful
attention to what you say and how you say it. An implausible account
does not become more believable through repetition or through volume.
You are involved in an adversarial
process that is, to some degree, unavoidably confrontational. Many
violations of the Code of Ethics result from misunderstanding or lack of
awareness of ethical duties by otherwise well-meaning, responsible real
estate professionals. An ethics complaint has potential to be viewed as
an attack on a respondent's integrity and professionalism. For the
enforcement process to function properly, it is imperative for all
parties, witnesses, and panel members to maintain appropriate decorum.
After the Hearing
When you receive the hearing panel's
decision, review it carefully.
Findings of fact are the conclusions of
impartial panel members based on their reasoned assessment of all of the
evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. Findings of fact
are not appealable.
If you believe the hearing process was
seriously flawed to the extent you were denied a full and fair hearing,
there are appellate procedures that can be invoked. The fact that a
hearing panel found no violation is not appealable.
Refer to the procedures used by the local
board or association of REALTORS® for detailed information on the bases
and time limits for appealing decisions or requesting a rehearing.
Re-hearings are generally granted only when newly discovered evidence
comes to light
which could not reasonably have
been discovered and produced at the original hearing and
which might have had a bearing on
the Hearing Panel's decision.
Appeals brought by ethics
respondents must be based on
a perceived misapplication or
misinterpretation of one or more Articles of the Code of
a procedural deficiency or
failure of due process, or
the nature or gravity of the
discipline proposed by the hearing panel.
Appeals brought by ethics complainants are limited to procedural
deficiencies or failure of due process that may have prevented a
full and fair hearing.
Many ethics complaints result from misunderstanding or a failure in
communication. Before filing an ethics complaint, make reasonable efforts to
communicate with your real estate professional or a principal broker in the
firm. If these efforts are not fruitful, the local Board or Association of
REALTORS® can give you the procedures and forms necessary to file an ethics
Source: Michigan Association of REALTORS®